When Paul Smith laid eyes on Gentlemen of Bakongo, a vivid new celebration of the fashion-obsessed Congolese dandies called sapeurs, he was too inspired to wait for his next menswear show. He immediately modeled his women's collection for Spring 2010 around Daniele Tamagni's photos. In fact, the book's cover was reproduced for the first look: a scaled-down pink suit, orange striped shirt, and red shoes, topped off by an orange bowler. That vivid sapeur-iste palette juiced up the show, and the menswear theme kept circling around, in a banker-striped shirt extended into a full dress, say, or the tan suit worn over checked waistcoat, collar, and tie.

Artfully swagged dresses in checks and ikats, often with bras or bandeaus worn on the outside, looked like the sort of pieces a sapeur's date might wear (they were also reminiscent of old Westwood). And cardigans were tied with equal art around the body to form shape-conscious silhouettes. It was very cute and very young—but quite what it has to do with the eccentric Englishwoman Smith has been courting recently was difficult to see.