For once, Rei Kawakubo's cryptic clue for her new Comme des Garçons collection made perfect sense. "White drama" was a precise summation of a show that felt like it tracked a progression through life's dramatic way stations: birth, marriage, death, transcendence. Tradition drapes each of those moments in white and attaches distinct rituals to them, which set off some fascinating echoes in Kawakubo's all-white collection. Some were as obvious as the duchesse satin of a wedding dress or the lace of a christening gown; others were more oblique, such as a reference to a body laid out in white flowers, or the pointy-headed robes worn by church dignitaries during Seville's Semana Santa.

The ceremonial grandeur of the clothes and the stately way they were shown felt like yet another echo of the fifties/sixties couture influence that has insinuated itself into Spring 2012. More specifically, there was the spirit of Cristobal Balenciaga, a deeply religious man who elevated the craft of couture to the level of spiritual quest. He believed he could find salvation in the perfect sleeve. It was probably coincidence that sleeves were the signal detail of the Comme collection (they were long and wide, falling almost to the floor), just as it was probably coincidence that the show took place in a Salvation Army building. Unless, of course, you believe there is no such thing as coincidence, a conclusion that was easy to reach given the presentation's inescapable spiritual dimension.

It was tempting to see in that a response by Kawakubo to the disasters that afflicted Japan this year, with life-and-death dramas still being played out every day. But that sounds unduly solemn for a show that, for all its grand theme, was still spiked by drollness in details such as the headgear contributed by three different artists, the Westwood hoops, and the lacy lingerie trims that introduced hints of carnality. Yes, the white boots might be worn by technicians in a nuclear reactor. But equally, they could be sixties couture a-go-go.