Alberta Ferretti wouldn't be the first designer to talk about the urban jungle this season. The speed and chaos of contemporary life have infected fashion as much as any other creative medium. Ferretti's reaction was similar to Christopher Bailey's in London the other day: to elevate the artisan over the machine. And she looked to what she called "the poetry and mystery" of the real wild world for help. Using a technique called intaglio, Ferretti duplicated tribal tattoos in chiffon mounted on tulle. She drew on Zulu motifs and colors for dresses composed entirely of countless tiny beads arduously applied by hand (if there's anyone in the world who still cares about heirloom dressing, you could imagine them passing these babies on). And Ferretti went bush with a palm-frond print that was a more obvious concession to the current vogue for the primal graphic. It came wrapped sarong-style or, thanks to the magic of illusion created by tulle, creeping trifidlike up what looked like a model's naked torso.

Truth be told, "Zulu" and "Ferretti" are not words one is likely to see in the same paragraph too often, but the designer managed to manipulate the out-of-Africa vibe in such a way that she successfully extended her own design vocabulary. Someone mentioned White Mischief, the cult chronicle of decadent goings-on among the British expat community in Kenya in the forties: If you closed your eyes a little and held your breath, there was definitely something of that saga's steamy languor in Ferretti's clothes, not to mention Guido Palau's tumbling, tangled tresses, which looked liberated by humid equatorial lust. The intaglio slipdresses, the wrapped and tied fuchsia chiffon outfit, the black chiffon gown with the jet bodice: They were all the stuff of decadent, sophisticated nights under the colonial skies. (Too bad about the shoes—they could have stayed home.) But there's got to be a morning after, so Ferretti offered linen silk trenches (again, the beaded collars showing she's on the same wavelength as Bailey), slinky suits in peachy crepe, and—the exotic-cum-sensible kicker—a khaki camp shirt paired with a brown beaded skirt.