It was announced last week that Charles James will be the subject of next year's Costume Institute show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. James was sometimes called America's first couturier; he's remembered now for his spectacular ball gowns, immortalized in photographs by Cecil Beaton. If James has a spiritual descendant, it's Zac Posen, whose devotion to occasion dressing is immune to trend. New York is thinking along sporty lines for Spring; other designers Posen's age are vibing on the 1990s. Posen, for his part, borrowed his color palette and floral prints from the Impressionists; his muse this season was Sarah Bernhardt.

More power to him, right? Unfortunately, this wasn't one of Posen's finest moments. Backstage before the show he said he would be presenting "conceptual evening," and described it as "more sculptural" than usual. Exuberant doesn't begin to describe the layered organza and tulle layers of a strapless party dress, or the pronounced shoulders of an architectural draped evening jacket in floral jacquard. Some of the softer dresses, too (in double-face white satin or rose hand-dyed draped tulle), were constructed with a flamboyance that felt out of step—not just with other runways, but also with the red carpets for which most of them are intended. Admittedly, the silk flowers in the models' updos and the harsh lighting weren't doing Posen any favors.

He was on much firmer ground with a comparatively simpler hand-plisséd strapless cocktail number in yellow—all of the plissé dresses were lovely. An ultra-fitted peplum jacket worn with a fishtail skirt struck a similarly modern note. Ball gowns will be in the spotlight at the Costume Institute next May, but these are the kinds of things we hope to see the next time Posen gets on the runway.