It began with an austere high-waisted black tunic and shorts, and ended with the all-out extravagance of a thousand meters of multi-tufted tulle gown sweeping the runway. In Giambattista Valli's words, "It's about a metamorphosis. There's a big change going on in these times." He can say that again. Still, for the lineup of pretty young friends cozied up together center-front (Natalie Portman, Emma Watson, Lapo Elkann and his girlfriend Bianca Brandolini d'Adda, Leigh Lezark, Caroline Sieber, and assorted socials), this was a collection that outlined the go-to certainties of Valli's appeal: couturelike volumes and polished formality, underpinned by an irrepressible love of the frothy, feminine, partygoing dress.

Granted, this season the volumes were less overblown than usual, tempered (at least to begin with) by the influence of Cristobal Balenciaga in raised-waist sack dresses, ovi-form tops, and molded capes. More persistent, though, and shown in many fabric options—from faded and flaking wallpaper prints to guipure lace and hopsack—were fifties-style dance dresses, neat to the waist and flaring out into teacup circle skirts held up by stiff layers of petticoat. Valli attributed that to wanting to make his silhouettes correspond faithfully to his sketches. "But in reality," he noted, "you can take off the petticoat, and it's just a nice godet skirt." Perhaps if he'd shown some that way, it might have injected the sense of modernity the collection ultimately lacked.