Too ladylike, too precious, too little-girlish, too vulgar. Any of those outcomes could've befallen a show as laden with lace and flowers and embroideries as was Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri's latest for Valentino. But they didn't, not for a second. The designers turned out their best collection yet—one dress more seductively, calmly lovely than the next, many of them walking out on flat sandals or lace espadrilles that helped give the outing its fresh feel. "Fashion is a dream, and in this moment we need dreams," Piccioli said beforehand. The only thing that could poke a hole in the duo's fantasy is the fact that us girls don't have enough real-life occasions to wear these frocks.

Oh, how we wish we did, but in fact there was a lot more here than the red-carpet confections that attracted Jessica Biel to the front row. The designers opened with short frocks in off-white or black in a cotton lace fabric that made them into everyday sort of propositions, or they inset lace into paper-thin leather for a halter dress and a snappy trench. Other short styles in away-from-the-body tent shapes had a dressier feel.

A quick peek at the designers' mood boards revealed pictures of Georgia O'Keeffe and Tina Modotti and photographs by Deborah Turbeville. Piccioli and Chiuri mentioned Mexico in the early part of the twentieth century as a source of inspiration, "but not so much a geographical place as a state of mind." The notion came through strongest for evening. The puffed shoulders, the long sleeves, and the hems that fell above the ankle, along with the dresses' hand-painted floral prints and velvet flower appliqués, gave them a slight folkloric feeling, but it wasn't overpowering. "Beautiful" is the word we heard over and over as we left the show.