¿If Nan Kempner hung out with Bob Dylan in the West Village in the fifties, this is what she would've worn," Brian Wolk said backstage at the National Arts Club, Claude Morais standing by as if about to jump in and finish his partner¿s sentence for him.

And, yes, you could absolutely picture Kempner, the late, rail-thin clotheshorse whose style is currently being celebrated at the Costume Institute exhibit, in the duo¿s second-skin ("molded," they called it) stretch-charmeuse top and high-waisted silk-faille trousers. She would¿ve just loved the ruffle flounces that traipsed along the lapel of a wrap jacket and down the neckline of a halter.

Ruffian has long bandied about the aspirational term ¿American couture,¿ and it's always seemed anachronistic that they should design for women of Kempner¿s generation and tax bracket. But perhaps their focus is shifting. While it was clear they hadn¿t exactly raided the bargain bin when it came to fabrics—all that polished wool, silk taffeta, and sequins—plenty of the pieces would look believable on, say, Olivia Palermo (the freshly anointed social darling who sat in the front row and, based solely on the number of shows she's hit so far this weekend, just might rival Kempner for fashion enthusiasm). In a Ruffian cashmere flannel A-line dress with snaps and exposed zippers, any twenty-first-century Nan would fairly glow.