Can voluptuous fashion stay relevant in an age of austerity? Can gorgeous decoration coexist with the need for something plain and simple? Ask Alber Elbaz, a man whose recipe for reductionism and all-out gorgeousness squared the circle with a unique flourish. "Whatever's happening now," he said, "it's the end of fake. What's not real will go. What we have to do now is make life easier for women."

To him, that meant going back to the studio with scissors and fabric and working out, first, a supreme economy of cut and design. Airy shapes in poufy gazar, duchesse satin, georgette, and cloque were crafted from single shots of color in one-shouldered tops, balloon-sleeved blouses, and shifts in which the only feature is an internal drape that adds a miraculously chic fillip to the hip line. To begin with, this calm focus on the intrinsic value of structure was shown with nude shoes, so the eye had nothing to distract it from noticing, say, the way external darts ran up the hip and into the waist of a cool pair of black pants. It was intellectual and reserved, a quintessence of Lanvin that only Elbaz can achieve.

But suddenly, just before it all turned into a sober-sided treatise in form, the other side of Elbaz's brain kicked in. A mad blue leopard-spot dress with insane crystal-studded sunglasses and the hottest beaded and bejeweled high-heeled sandals advanced along the runway, and an outbreak of crazy high spirits took over. Ending the show with a gorgeous lineup of dresses in purple and blue fringed Lurex, crystal and knit embroidery, and random sprinklings of paillette flowers, Elbaz closed the season on a celebratory high. A counterintuitive moment, maybe, but it reflected something this designer understands as well as he does the principles of rational dressing: Even when times are dark, there's still room for clothes to make women keel over with desire.