The last time Tommy Hilfiger showed on the runway, a year and a half ago, it was a party—the company's 20th birthday party, to be exact—with scads of celebrities, a movie, and a 100-look collection jammed with his greatest hits. But after a two-season break, Hilfiger has gotten serious. The Fall show featured a glossy black runway with a melancholy backdrop: the negative image of a redwood forest. There was a light smattering of celebs, but the front row lacked the zoo ambience of shows past. "It's a rebirth, a new chapter in my life," Hilfiger said backstage.

To the bittersweet harmonies of Simon & Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence, out came fresh-scrubbed sixties schoolgirls in toggle coats, tweed pinafores, and tartan trapeze dresses, all worn with knit tights. The sober New-England-in-winter color scheme was freshened up with flashes of primary color, to chic effect: a navy coat over a lemon-yellow dress and red shoes. Wool coat-dresses had an innocent, Katharine Ross elegance. Hilfiger has often mined an era or subculture for his ideas, but this effort captured the optimism of that decade without caricature. The clothes had a certain quiet refinement—all part of a well-considered repositioning of the brand. Asked whether this runway show will be followed by another, Hilfiger answered, "Absolutely. It's good to be back."