Martine Sitbon has enough years in the game to never work a reference too literally. Though her magpie travel inspiration plucked from Morocco, China, Mexico, and Mitteleuropa, you'd be hard-pressed to categorize the results. It made for Rue du Mail's softest and most romantic collection in years. That was partly due to all the sweet, handworked smocking and cornrows of flocked tulle embroidery, but also the injection of volume into Sitbon's usually sleek shapes. There were full skirts as well as billowy sleeves on caftanlike frocks, and she ended with almost trapeze silhouettes, the kind that take you back to Philo-era Chloé.

Sitbon retained a certain sizzle with sheer, limb-exposing georgettes and a few body-skimming dresses, including a great stripey cotton knit number, which was another new development. And the collection was far from overly traditional. In addition to using old-world techniques, the designer added her own, including a very cool fabric made from simple printed cotton, smocked tightly and then fused to create something that felt substantial and expensive.

The delicate ink-and-watercolor print that dominated the middle of the show was also a big part of Sitbon's new ground. She said it had shades of China, while others saw echoes of Prada's fairy print. It was cut into sunray-pleated dresses as well as satin tops—part of Sitbon's renewed attempt to add tops, skirts, and pants to her dress-heavy oeuvre. Ultimately, the urban gypsy is ground that's heavily trod and potentially trite, but Sitbon's take escaped that fate by keeping her originality and the postcard nostalgia in equilibrium.