The view from the top floor of 7 World Trade Center was the best backdrop any fashion show has ever had: a crystal-clear panorama of New York at night that was so timeless it could have been yesterday, today, or tomorrow. It was a hard act for the clothes to follow, but, to his credit, John Varvatos produced a collection loaded with character. And he could've used a few more characters to show the clothes on—the sound track of old bluesmen made one hanker for the tough cookies that Yohji Yamamoto dredges up as a complement to his designs. Varvatos treated classic fabrics to imbue them with a previous life, cut them into classic shapes, and styled them up into interesting outfits, but his models didn't always have the seasoning to project the story. That aside, several items—a glossy, fitted ponyskin blazer, a leather-trimmed pinstripe jacket, a washed-wool pea coat—leapt off the catwalk. And the way the designer deconstructs a cliché—offering a tux, say, in gray with a mushroom satin lapel—will always win kudos.

The secondary U.S. line with which Varvatos always wraps up his show played out against a backdrop of the Statue of Liberty flashing the peace sign. Perhaps he was dreaming that politically active college boys were the constituency for the preppy/punk hybrid he proposed. In their black wigs, the models were intended to evoke rocker Jesse Malin, whom Varvatos was pushing in his press kit (along with Velvet Revolver). Designer as proselytizing music fan—one more reason for kudos.