Whose Canali is it anyway? That seems to be the question the Italian suit-maker is out to debate. On one hand, there is the high-end business-suit specialist, who recently opened a tony Madison Avenue flagship; on the other, the would-be fashion player with inclinations in a looser, lighter direction. The Spring show comprised both. The rough theme was Paris—a city caught, Elisabetta Canali said, "between dream and reality." Or between shadows and light. The show opened with a kind of shadow-puppet play, complete with the Eiffel Tower. And the opening looks were the kind of conservative gray suiting and topcoats that longtime Canali fans would recognize. But the collection broke quickly into saturated color—Yves Klein blue, honey yellow, cherry red—and its Paris wasn't of bankers and lawyers, but artists and demimondaines. Suddenly there were tiepins worn as broaches, jackets inspired by painters' smocks, espadrilles, polka dots, stripes, and—for the seaside holiday—mermaid-print chinos.

The defining trait of the Canali universe is the craftsmanship, right down to the proprietary fabrics. Arguably, it's a small percentage of its older, more business-minded customers who will even see a fashion show, so the runway becomes a puppet theater of its own: space to play. It's hard to fault that. "A bit of irony is what we need," Elisabetta Canali said backstage before the show. "We'd like to show that we can play."