Gilles Mendel's clothes never looked as good as they did at the Chelsea Art Museum today. The designer opted to showcase his "labors of love," as he called them, in a presentation format rather than on a runway as usual. That way, everyone could get up close to examine the undeniable art of his dressmaking—which, after all, is what customers fall in love with and open their wallets for. Other designers could learn from his example.

With the change in format came a new and welcome lightness. Fur coats and vests, nearly as thin as fabric, were detailed with satin piping. Fresh, too, was the cloth outerwear, done in colors like cinnamon, poppy, buttercup, and rose quartz, and worked with all the delicate finesse of a beautiful J. Mendel gown.

"My dresses are, in fact, like a flower," said the designer, who had been looking at the hyper-vivid petals and stamens of the botanical photographer Christopher Beane. Well, better make that an orchid—because, let's face it: This collection aims at an exclusive audience. But as today's presentation proved, it's not a rarified hothouse atmosphere that draws customers to J. Mendel dresses or jackets but the skillful hands that make them.