One of the greatest rides in fashion history ended Wednesday night as Tom Ford, a gardenia in his lapel, came down the runway at Gucci, stopped to kiss his companion and walked the rest of the way alone as a thousand people rose to their feet and cheered.

In less than a decade as creative director, the American-born Mr. Ford transformed Gucci, a moribund Italian label, into a coveted symbol of sex and glamour, reaching worldwide sales of $1.5 billion a year. But in a decision in November that will probably be debated for years to come, executives at Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, Gucci’s parent company, chose to let Mr. Ford and his business partner, Domenico De Sole, go, saying the Gucci brand was bigger than the designer.

Well, tonight Mr. Ford begged to differ.

In one of the classiest presentations of his career, Mr. Ford showed them how it was done. This was big-time fashion. From the first exit to the last, there wasn’t an outfit that looked wrong, a hair out of place. The clothes reflected not only the high points of his career, but also his ability to project an idea beyond the small, limited world of fashion.

Minutes before the show started, as the models were lining up backstage, Mr. Ford said: ”I feel really sad, but I’m happy to say I love this collection. I wanted to go back and revisit certain elements at Gucci but also to think about why I had wanted to be a fashion designer — what were the iconic moments of my life?”

To a soundtrack of love songs, including a remix of ”Killing Me Softly,” Mr. Ford sent out lush fur jackets over slim, shiny skirts pinched and pleated across the fanny. The palette was the Gucci palette: graphic black and white, pale pink, the indecent shock of electric blue and livid green. Mr. Ford skipped the daytime clothes, unless your idea of day wear is a dark purple suit in stretch taffeta crisscrossed with bondage seam work or a lunar white coat with a black fox pelt draped around the collar.

The nighttime world is what Mr. Ford understands best — that sense, so implicit in necklines plunging toward the navel or in the way a piece of black chiffon pulls tautly over the shoulders, that anything might happen if the lights are low and the mood is right. The gift of all great designers is to be able to translate emotions into clothes. The particular gift of Mr. Ford was to recognize in the mid-1990’s that those emotions — whether for love or seduction or hedonism — could change rapidly, and to seize on them.

People talk about Tom Ford’s ”vision,” as if it were something that comes along every day. But it comes to only a few individuals in this business. People forget that Gucci was a leather-goods house when Mr. Ford arrived in 1990 — and practically a bankrupt one. But he gave Gucci fashion, and then he gave the fashion, through his marketing and advertising skills, meaning.

If there was one thing this immaculate show made loud and clear, it was that Mr. Ford is, to the last, a designer. (On March 7 in Paris, he will present his final collection for Yves Saint Laurent, the second label he designs.)

As he strode down the runway here and the ceiling opened up with rose petals, the crowd along the front row edged forward. Then about half the people in the audience followed him toward the backstage area. It seemed that everyone was aware of what had just transpired in that room.

”He took the whole house with him!” said Michael Roberts, the fashion editor of The New Yorker. ”Lock, stock and barrel.”

”It was spectacular,” said Burt Tansky, the chief executive of Neiman Marcus. ”Of course it bothers us that he’s leaving. As one of Gucci’s biggest clients, we’re very sad. But what a fantastic way to go out.”

”What I admire about this show,” said Elizabeth Saltzman, the fashion director of Vanity Fair and a close friend of Mr. Ford’s, ”is that it wasn’t overly dramatic or emotional. He didn’t shove humble pie in anyone’s face.” She smiled. ”He just let us all know what we’re going to miss.”

The Gucci show didn’t overshadow the other strong collections of the day, notably by MaxMara and Pucci. Laura Lusuardi and her design team at MaxMara cut the fashion mustard with a refreshing silhouette based on full skirts in wool that fell just below the knees. Shown with saddle oxfords on a stacked heel, the skirts, including a pumpkin-colored one worn with a tight, diagonally fastened beige wool jacket, looked as chic as can be — and not at all encumbered by reference or trend. Rare this season.

Christian Lacroix insisted after his show for Pucci that he really had not put more of himself into the collection, but he was being modest. For the first time since he took over the designs of Pucci, Mr. Lacroix came up with the right modern blend of Paris and Mitteleuropa with a dash of those Italian prints thrown in.

A couple of thoughts came to mind as Mr. Lacroix showed cropped trousers, sturdy coats and vests and slim wrap dresses worked in combinations of gray tweed and somber geometric prints. One is that the world doesn’t need more jet set fabulosity. It wants easyJet. Get me there and shut up. The other is that people can’t take too much more change. They’re already so hyped that they’re not paying attention anyway.

Mr. Lacroix spoke about wanting to give women clothes they could wear to work. That’s a rather mundane way of saying they want something authentic. Both MaxMara and Pucci had that quality in common.

As Mr. Lacroix said, ”It’s a sense of eccentricity that’s more straight, stronger.”