Sundown was the title Richard James gave his Spring collection. It was clever of his show notes to quote Walt Whitman on the subject: "This is the hour for strange effects in light and shade—enough to make a colorist go delirious." James' USP has always been his way with color, so any inspiration that drove him to delirium would surely yield a collection that would be, as those same notes promised of sundown itself, a "stunning spectacle." Or, if we were to be a little more reasonable in our expectations, it might at least deliver on the promise of "hidden pleasures."

Such promise held a vision of the night as indolently, erotically spent as a Bryan Ferry lyric. But James came nowhere close. His was a politely patrician collection, from its single-buttoned, long-skirted jackets and white slacks to its seersucker shorts and sailboat-printed shirts. It was breezily light in its construction, pale to the point of neutrality, except when it came alive as the designer surrendered to the colorist inside: the night of a navy suede jacket coming on to the sunset orange of the trousers it was paired with, the pink-to-lilac ombré-ed polo.

What feels like decades ago, James presented a collection at the British Embassy in Paris that was fearlessly, seductively foppish. The Dali-lobster-print shirt lingers in the memory. You can still feel that beast stirring in him—here, there was a sheer, polka-dotted polo and a baby-blue suede blouson. And all the models were wearing espadrilles, some of them extravagantly beaded. This week, there have been echoes of that indolence in the collections of much younger London hotshots, which sets James up as something of a silver daddy for the scene. Maybe if he owned the role, it would help him to loosen up.