He may have no time for minimalism, but Roberto Cavalli is a great fan of the barely there—and a grand master of the power of suggestion. You always feel like you've seen a lot more naked supermodel than you actually did. (It's a neat trick if you can pull it off—remember the way Bob Mackie seemingly denuded Cher on network television week after week without ever really showing anything?) Mind you, today's show, marking a startling 40 years in business for Cavalli, did a mighty efficient job of creating a spectacle out of the bare necessities as Roberto saw them: a tiny jacket in croc or snake, a suede bib, a pair of pants laced to the legs, a sheer chiffon bias-cut gown, some webby crochet, a few buckets of beads and sequins, a concealing/revealing torrent of fringe, a palette bleached by indolent days spent lounging in the sun. And seldom has so much been done with so little.

It was all in the workmanship. Using the artisanal workshops of his native Florence, Cavalli has been producing spectacular skins for decades, but he pulled out the stops for his 40th, with the whipstitching, lacing, and patchworking reaching new heights. Croc and python jackets were left unhemmed, the integrity of the skin preserved. Cavalli also rose to international fame on the back of his prints, which turned jet-set dolls into tawny-maned tigresses. Here, he steered clear of the big cats in favor of snake, rendered so accurately that it looked like the real thing in second-skin pants (less so in a floating gown on Karolina Kurkova). Layered over everything were sequins, beads, and crystals, painstakingly applied by hand in Cavalli's workshops.

The backdrop—a jungle of huge flowers, fronds, and phallic peppers—suggested a hothouse island setting from a late-night B movie. When Cavalli's models stalked out at the finale, they could have been the cast of such a production. Who wouldn't be up for Ultravixens of Glamazonia? If the show struck just one chord and held it, it was still an appropriate testament to a singular vision that has weathered bouquets and brickbats for decades. When Cavalli took his bow, he was as usual with wife and right hand, Eva. And in that setting, surrounded by beauty, you could imagine he was in his own private Eden.