The invitation (a piece of "plaster" frieze), the location (the eighteenth-century Palazzo Reale), and the staging (1,500 candles in chandeliers suspended from cavernous ceilings) suggested that Dries Van Noten might have returned to his own version of the Grand Tour (bohemian, multicultural, exotic) for inspiration, after last season's incongruous side trip into eighties hip-hop. But location and invitation were misleading. Van Noten was still dwelling on how to link his own dilettante inclinations to the harder, sharper world of contemporary urbanwear, "balancing past and future," as he put it.

The connection he chose was color, great whacking gobs of it, from fluoro oranges and yellows to imperial purples and hot pinks. And, as he so sagely stated after the show, "The only way to make colors believable for guys is to make them as masculine as possible." In that interest, Van Noten offered up silhouettes derived from butch pursuits like judo (wrapped tops and pants), boxing (shorts with elastic waists), bicycling, and scuba diving.

The very nature of such activities demands high-performance synthetic fabrics, and the parade of high-tech nylons and acetates seemed a far cry from the luxe, vintage-y fabrics that have won Van Noten a devoted following. He himself was excited by nylon so fine it felt like silk, which he showed in sheer coats whose delicacy ran counter to his stated intention of inveigling the average he-man. The same almost-feminine spirit infused a shirt in mousseline as sheer as tissue paper; another in organza photocopied with a plaid pattern. Such a feat of head-spinningly fine fabric technology underscored the somewhat schizophrenic nature of the collection, but it also clarified Van Noten's strengths as a designer. After all, his future scarcely lies with boxing shorts.