After five years of showing in New York, Preen, a.k.a. Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi, returned to the London catwalk today. Their striking stage was at the Darwin Centre, an impressive architectural setting of sweeping, clean, modern lines attached to the neo-Gothic Natural History Museum.

The venue was carefully chosen to reflect the collection, where indeed modern lines won out. Here, as models emerged at the top of a staircase in minimal makeup and faux-effortless hair—a lot of effort actually goes into such touches, and this show had effort in spades—the clothes were the serious focus. And since the designers' time showing across the pond, their ability to produce clothing has sharpened considerably. There was precision in these silhouettes, in the crispness of a shirt or a wide, masculine-style kimono sleeve—little touches that mean so much when producing high-level fashion in such a competitive setting. And yet there were still some of the jarring elements of Preen past that, to some extent, may well have been exacerbated by New York.

The landscape of London fashion has changed considerably since the duo last showed here, and key designers have raised their game to perform on an international stage and truly establish their own signatures. The problem with certain aspects of the clothes on show today—and with many designers who show in New York—was that they often seemed in thrall to what has been, rather than what is to come. Here, the Céline-ish, Balenciaga-ish nature of things was evident. It sat uneasily with the play of exotic skins and prints that pointed to something else, such as the great use of a navy and white shagreen in one section of the collection, as well as the perversity of the designers' professed Buffalo '66 reference. Like the Victorian Gothic next to the sleek modern building, it was an interesting spectacle, but somehow existed in two different time frames.