His label might be just nine months shy of its forty-fifth birthday, but in a season when a buzz about "lightness" is in the air, Valentino proved he holds the franchise on old-school loveliness with as much authority as ever. Remarkably, his spring collection made some of the lifelong themes of his work—delicate dresses, lace, bows, and, of course, the color red—seem quite beautifully relevant at a time when so many edgier upstarts are stabbing around the territory.

Exhibits: a little ivory polka-dotted organza dress, with ripples of pristine frill running around the shoulders and throat; and a shapely scarlet strapless goddess gown, dramatically wrapped with an expertly knotted, flow-away georgette drape. Either of these, plunked in the middle of an emerging designer┐s collection, might be deemed trend-hitters, not to mention streets-ahead in terms of accomplishment. There was a reason this thought cropped up amongst the fragile sugar-pink and lavender chiffon, tiny puffed-shoulder sequin jackets, and multitude of prettily placed bow-motifs: The hair had turned modern, rather than lacquered and bouffed. It was just enough of a context change to make another generation stop giggling at the back and pay attention.

Even if hip kids aren┐t about to rush to Valentino right now, this presentation put down a marker for what the label could be in the future. There is no word about succession in this house—Valentino is still enjoying himself far too much—but any aspiring eye out there would do well to study the detail in this collection. Valentino┐s inimitable touch with pleating and ruffles—flat, accordion, tiered, fluttery, crisp, frisée-edged—was a kind of master class in the essence of this brand.