When Miuccia Prada is on form, only one thing's guaranteed: Whatever she did last season, she'll be the first to hate it, throw it out, and start somewhere else. Thus, fashion's most restless creative force has nixed the street-fighting toughie look she did for winter. In its place was a startling, destabilizing piece of extreme chic that flew directly in the face of all the current chatter about lightness, volume, and shades of beige.

A turbaned girl in a burgundy duchesse ultrashort tunic—all bare legs and high heels—started the show off, swiftly followed by another in a purple, high-necked long-sleeved satin dress reaching below the knee. What was this? Why were nylon backpacks strapped to those tiny, bottom-skimming tops? Why were these looks interspersed with forties-looking, rounded-shoulder dresses, blouses, and slim pencil skirts? And why all the strong reds, oranges, and jewel-colored satins for summer?

Because Prada felt like it. "I just wanted it to be about fashion," she shrugged backstage. "The importance of fashion." Still, this collection held an image of a powerful woman at its center, filtered through unmistakable references to Yves Saint Laurent (his "forties" collection from the seventies; a touch Loulou de la Falaise, to be precise). These were not random choices; in fact, they are two of the underlying constants in Prada's work. One thing she despises, though, is the overinterpretation of her motives; instinct and spontaneity guide her just as much as intellectual reasoning. She laughed at one journalist's anxious questioning about the short pieces, saying, "I just didn't like anything I did below the waist." Meaning, "Don't panic, these are tops." And, like everything else in this richly provocative show, they're going to look totally wearable in a store come spring.