Rarely have flowers been rendered as compellingly as in “The Roses of Heliogabalus,” Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s painting of the decadent Roman emperor Heliogabalus attempting to smother his audience with rose petals.

In his spring couture collection, Elie Saab aimed for a similar effect, showering a cascade of fabric petals on evening gowns inspired by the Victorian painter’s oeuvre. Rendered in several layers of silk chiffon, the blossoms took on a soft-focus quality on a powder-pink Empire-line dress with sheer long sleeves. They appeared to sprout three-dimensionally from a hydrangea-blue bustier gown with an ample skirt.

The painterly effects were most striking on a trio of gazar dresses with a multicolored floral print that gradually faded into white.

Dresses with extra voluminous skirts were guaranteed to make an entrance, but Saab knows how to engineer an exit, too. His Grecian-pleated gowns, in alluring shades of pale blue, yellow and coral, wafted long strips of chiffon in their wake.  

In a season where many designers are giving couture a youthful spin, Saab clung to a more traditional approach to the craft. Yet he displayed a light hand with creations such as a poppy-colored Fifties-style tulle cocktail dress. Who can argue with tradition when the result is this enchanting?

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