As it faces up to a world of dramatically reconfigured priorities, what action should fashion take to stay relevant? Should designers be paring back, or keep pushing the new? On YSL's runway, that tension surfaced. "I felt for an extreme simplicity," Stefano Pilati said, "but it has to be feminine and a bit audacious. Lifting the spirits was making sense to me." His solution was to play it both ways, with Japanese-inflected austerity on the one hand, and no surrender over risk-taking shapes and hotly desirable shoes on the other.

The Orientalist-modernist mix came out in the towering lacquered chignons and soft, cocooning shapes that had been derived from kimono wrapping and Japanese fishermen's pants. Pilati can claim authority over the drop-crotch trouser: He started it, and now that it's entered the mainstream he's edging it further along into fluid, baglike shorts, rompers, and jumpsuits. If that sounds awful, by the end of the show the concept of a garment that happens to be joined between the knees—worn with buttoned-up shirts or tailored jackets—had gained a degree of visual inevitability that might be a staging post on the way to normality. (Fearless young stylists have already been sporting their own versions of them around the shows this week, so that's another sign.)

In any case, there were aspects of the show that didn't insist on pushing that particular nether-parts envelope. At some points, Pilati stepped up to answer the call for the kind of reassuring, regular Parisian chic women demand from YSL. An amazing asymmetric black dress with volume gathered up in a drawstring bow in the back did that, as did several pale gray regular pantsuits, and, for someone racier, reworkings of "Saharien" jackets with the cross-lacing details running through peplums or up the small of the back.

If it didn't have the slam-dunk, uncompromising fashion stance of Pilati's last collection, the riveting new shoes–latticework grids of leather with metal-mesh heels–were enough to score a huge hit. First, they were walkable; second, they represent a coolly modern collision of the airiness of multi-strapped gladiators with the look of a boot. In a season when so much footwear has limped off runways to muttered protests from female audiences, that point alone puts YSL in the lead.