Preppy? Yes, preppy! That was Rick Owens' rationale for the seersucker that made a guest appearance in his latest collection. He claims he likes to test himself with exercises in the very opposite of everything he stands for, much like his skewed salute some years back to the fanny-packed American tourist. A more germane reference for the clothes he showed today was legendary couturier Cristobal Balenciaga, whose sculpted volumes are often echoed in Owens' own dramatic drapes. Using fabrics as true to couture as raw silk and shantung, Owens created his own version of the classic three-piece suit—jacket, top, and skirt—except he added a fourth layer, a tuniclike piece. "I just invented the four-piece suit," he crowed after the show.

Owens' skirt was scarcely Balenciaga's sleek pencil or bell shape. Instead, it was a floor-length, apronlike wrap that defined the collection as much as the many variations of jacket that provided the top half. Add the monastic tonsure of some of the models and the combination had a priestly air. There were also floor-length tank dresses that evoked students in the seminary of a parallel universe. The backdrop—huge panels of bright white light—and the soundtrack (a crescendo-ing electronic throb) also suggested spiritual aspirations. Making such an interpretation more possible was Owens' own fascination with the idea of transcendence. Balenciaga believed such a state could be achieved by glorying God through devotion to his craft. Owens is rather too pagan for that, plus he was talking about the power of rationalism today. Still, it's hard not to look at his collections and see someone who is obsessively steering his craft in such a unique and deeply personal direction that it amounts to a spiritual quest. The lean, clean lines of his new collection read like road maps.