Hussein Chalayan was in a smooth and sophisticated mood for Spring—and that extended to his own appearance. He astonished his audience by compering the show like a forties band leader, with slicked-back hair, lounge-lizard tux, and pencil mustache. Backed by a tango orchestra, he presided over a grown-up collection of streamlined black and white, ivory and navy tailoring and dresses. His aim was to evoke a leisured, civilized lifestyle—or, as he put it, "The fantasy we all have of being able not to work."

If that sounds like a radically retro-romantic 180-degree turn away from his usual avant-garde experimentalism, it wasn't quite. Chalayan said he felt the need to reinstate something of the minimalism he developed at the beginning of his career: "It's technically tougher, as a designer, to miss things out than keep adding." Still, the stripped-down jackets and vests with dropped, sculptural lapels and cut-out zones; the fitted dresses; and the graphic black and white stripes were all angled to reach an elegant, adult audience.

With its dainty cantilever-heeled ballet pumps and cartwheel straw hats with integral flipped-down sun visors, the collection projected the aura of a long sojourn somewhere warm and expensive. One dress, paneled in pristine, precision-carved white, had something of the look of Chalayan's early aeronautics-experimental pieces—but now fully grounded as a wearable city sheath. Another, with a trim black body and puffy cotton sleeves, was cut out in back; others came with glamorous slit skirts.

Conservative classicism it wasn't, especially toward the end, when Chalayan brought on some amazing navy silk plissé dresses crimped to suggest ocean waves. They were followed by something to set the mind a boggle: white jersey gowns with surreal ceramic fists clutching the drapery. In all, though, this was simple-chic without being "lady"— a fine line, walked well.