There was a time when French petty criminal-turned-writer Jean Genet was a hero of the global avant-garde. Such was his impact at his career peak that it seems almost inconceivable the parade would eventually, inevitably pass him by. So kudos to Antonio Marras for resuscitating Genet, by using his play The Maids as the foundation of his new collection. Or, more specifically, the film version, where Glenda Jackson and Susannah York played the maids who took turns at playing their mistress when she was out of town. "It's my turn to be Madame," Jackson's voice honked throughout the show.

A fascinating story? Absolutely. A smart way to make a comment on the role-playing foundation of fashion? For sure. But it was an intimidatingly complicated concept for a fashion show, especially without the luxury of access to the designer's pre-show explanation of the significance of the two different wardrobes.

One was clearly Madame's: elegant, draped plissé; strapless floral cocktail dresses; precise little cardigans with ruffled collars; ruched bathing suits for sun-lounging in Portofino. Plus Madame's preferred color scheme—patrician jade and fuchsia. The other wardrobe was the "poor cotton" of the maids' uniforms transformed by their proximity to Madame's finery. They had appliquéd, ornamented, and intarsia-ed their clothes in the manner to which Marras has accustomed us over the seasons with his romantic collaging of different times and places.

Maybe it was the stage origins of the inspiration, but there was something inescapably costumey about many of the looks. A Marras show often strikes a retro chord, but there is usually some emotional, personal counterbalance, as with the collection he based on his mother's wardrobe. That is precisely what this show lacked. It felt like a performance, which isn't to say there weren't some beautiful clothes: The laminated blue cardigan paired with a green pencil skirt, as well as the same outfit in pink and purple, were louche, chic. And Marras is an effortless master of a very particular style of dressing up. Alta moda? His fabrics and techniques are awfully close to that. But there was no heat in this show, and Marras without heat is like Burton without Taylor, Brad without Angie.