It's not surprising that new Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti designer Natalie Ratabesi debuted on a relatively timid note: For one thing, pre-fall is hardly the season for sweeping gestures, and for another, it takes a while for most any designer to get his or her arms around a brand, and Ratabesi was only named to her position in October. Though the collection she presented today wasn't bold, it was certainly canny. Ratabesi started by fixing on the look of Philosophy circa 1994—she referenced, in particular, a photo of Stella Tennant from that year, looking laid-back yet chic as all get out in a wispy Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti dress and oversize jacket.

That, pretty much, was the vibe of the collection: feminine yet unfussy, with a styling MO that was almost ersatz. The strongest looks, in general, were Ratabesi's winter whites, in particular the dresses and tops softened by a waterfall of ruffles or fluid pleats. She also cut more than a few pairs of sharp trousers; the unusual knits, such as a furry sweater, also made an impression. But the most intriguing harbinger of things to come from Ratabesi may have been the long black dress with lace cutouts. Once you noticed its slouchy cut, so counterintuitive in a gown, you realized that Ratabesi is a designer capable of evoking not just an era but an attitude through clothes. It will be interesting to see what she does with that talent next season.