"Clothes for a thinking-man's sex symbol," is how Prabal Gurung described his debut collection. "You know, Zadie Smith or Arundhati Roy—if they went there a little," he said with a wry smile. However, there's more than the thought of novelists in smart-sexy cocktail frocks for Gurung to smile about. After the shuttering of Bill Blass, where he worked for the past five years, Gurung has set out on his own—potentially a scary place to be right now. Happily, his packed Thursday night presentation proved that he has the support of important industry folk and friends, particularly those like casting agent James Scully and stylist Tina Laakkonen, both of whom pitched in to help. As for the clothes, there was more than a whiff of Monsieur Saint Laurent—another designer who dressed the sexy yet empowered set, and whom Gurung calls his "guru."

Blass closed in December, but this impressive first outing was clearly more than a few months in the making. The 21 looks—which made a bold statement in black, white, and red—fell mostly into elegant evening, with variations on Le Smoking in cropped pants and little jackets, and sharply graphic cocktail frocks. They were also unabashedly luxe, with such extravagances as double-faced cashmere, hand-sewn feathers, and embroideries done in India. But Gurung, who explained that dresses will retail for around $2,200, is unbowed. "I just want to do beautiful, well-made clothes," he said. Godspeed.