In recent seasons, this label's collections have referenced China and India, a nod to those markets' current importance. For Spring 2012, Zegna's designers set out to evoke a different setting, one that overworked executives from Milan to Mumbai can presumably all relate to: a beachside paradise. "Shining silk passion," as the show notes dubbed proceedings, may sound like a late-night cable TV offering, but the Zegna team had a more decorous sort of courtship in mind. The show began with a troupe of acrobatic dancers performing a shadowy passion play behind the white screens that lined the runway, complete with roses and Champagne flutes. The way elected officials around the world have been acting lately, who couldn't use a return to a little old-fashioned romance?

The clothes themselves did nothing to disturb this idyll. A sea of washed-out shades hit the catwalk: palest blue and green, dusty mauve, sand. With their swept-back, modified pompadours, the models recalled Alain Delon's Riviera rake in Purple Noon. But there's little that is retro about Zegna's approach. The company's technical expertise ensures that. Here, as the show's title suggests, silk blends gave a suppleness to a range of fabrics from cotton to linen. Crinkled finishes added textural interest. A sense of ease was apparent throughout. Though single- and double-breasted jackets and flat-front trousers were cut relatively close to the body, crewneck knits and silk scarves were the preferred alternative to shirt and tie, one pair of athletically inclined pants came with elasticized cuffs, and lightweight raincoats were often thrown casually over the lot. Anchoring the look were surprisingly sturdy shoes, suede or nubuck lace-ups with hefty clear rubber soles—a deliberate contrast to the clothes. In all, this was another purposeful step in the company's quest to get the Zegna man to loosen up a bit for the twenty-first century.