There are still plenty of people who question the wisdom of a Paul Smith collection for women. The problem is that womenswear doesn't really play into his strengths, given that his hugely successful menswear line is such an expression of his own appetites and idiosyncrasies. Spring 2009 was inspired by an exhibition of British Orientalist art that just closed at Tate Britain, so there were caftan-inspired long cotton dresses and trousers with the volume of harem pants, and hair and makeup that pointed to a long session in a hammam. A blurred gingham suggested cloth that had been washed and left in the sun. It looked strong in the fitted-then-flaring floor sweeper that closed the show (very Norma Shearer). It was also tiered with floral chiffon in a skirt over a full white petticoat. (There is something so pretty about a full petticoat—a black one also showed up here under a white broderie anglaise dress.)

The second major influence on the show was Smith's own tailoring, which meant that an ivory coat with black trim "started out Orientalist, ended up Chanel" (his words). Tailored pieces included a little tap-shorts suit and a cotton drill jacket with a pair of those voluminous pants. While it's unlikely that this new collection will change the minds of the doubters, it was Smith's best edited and most coherent women's show to date.