The mood at a Bill Blass show is traditionally one of uptown appropriateness. But for fall, both the guest list (Janet Jackson and Dr. Ruth Westheimer, suggesting all kinds of wardrobe-malfunction scenarios) and the soundtrack (heavy on the Scissor Sisters) indicated that Michael Vollbracht was heading in a new direction.

Backstage, Vollbracht's muse, Karen Bjornson, spoke about the collection's shorter, more youthful proportions, and the designer extolled the virtues of his "narrow and long" silhouette, which were evident in the strong opening segment—a natty (rainbow) pinstripe suit and trim snakeskin pieces were particularly strong. One of Vollbracht's white cashmere toggle coats would look great on a stroll up Museum Mile, especially if accessorized with one of Carlos Falchi's big Mongolian bags, which added zip to tweedy daytime looks. Evening highlights included a short, beaded black slip dress, a full-skirt LBD with V-neck and bows at the hip, and a long, crepe silk gown with embroidered bodice.

There were, however, a lot of misses along the way: Karen Elson, in a gazar shirt and taffeta ball skirt of epic proportions, looked like a character who had strayed from the pages of a fifties etiquette book. And, with no consistency of ornamentation, the finale seemed aimless—a dress parade in search of a theme, like characters in search of an author.