Roberto Cavalli reads as a cantankerous fighter, not a lover. His latest dustup was a war of words with Giorgio Armani. Yet he consistently turns out some of Milan's most powerful visions of feminine pulchritude, so you have to conclude that, for all the tough-guy posturing, he really is a man who has made it his life's work to bring beauty into the world. And when Cavalli refers to his collection as "a dream," it's clear that he has an acute understanding of the transformative power of fashion. After all, he's living proof.

He was also referring to today's collection as "43 paintings," which translated as 43 ways to frame the body of a woman. With the amount of skin on display, there wasn't a hell of a lot to some of the "frames," but they were so masterfully constructed that the power of suggestion won out over bare-all revelation. Cavalli's design pendulum swung between languid slipdresses and hyper-tailored suits, both encrusted with crystals and glass embroidery, both strategically slashed open or transmogrified with ornate leather inserts. The swirls and whorls of Art Nouveau architecture were a big influence on prints that were engineered to trace a woman's anatomy. The designer combined them with his signature jaguar and python prints for a sophisticated update of what are probably the ultimate Cavalli clichés.

Not for the first time this week in Milan, the show opened with all-white looks, worn by blondes, and closed with brunettes in all black. The monochrome allowed for a greater appreciation of the breathtaking work the Cavalli atelier does with embroidery and beading (and was still doing in the seconds before the first model hit the catwalk). In between, there were boudoir-sheer mousselines detailed in shades of lime green and apricot, soft in substance, TKO in style. Easy enough to infer that the collection was some kind of day-to-night journey; equally likely that, in Cavalli's dream, his women are both angels and devils, inspiring and intimidating. He'll never win every battle, but fortunately for those of us who relish his moments in Milan, he'll never stop trying.