The Obama bump was in full force at the Robert Miller Gallery, where Maria Cornejo's show was crowded with full editorial and retail teams and plenty of important people with the word "director" in their titles. "Of course it's had an effect," said Cornejo, backstage beforehand, of the inauguration-bound First Lady's having chosen to wear Zero aboard the whistle-stop Obama Express.

Fittingly, Fall was designed for a "strong but positive" woman, Cornejo said. The feel-good inspirations behind the collection (her cat, Grace Jones, and drives upstate) may have sounded like a bit of an odd mix, but there was nothing discordant about the image that hit the runway: a lean and elegant urban warrior look, not a defiant one, but a sophisticated and pragmatic tough cookie who needs the protection of a sleek, luxe cocoon. Despite the designer's protestations that this was a light and optimistic season, there were lots of dark clothes here. But that's OK: Cornejo's blacks are never basic, whether it's a directional silhouette or an unusual texture that clicks them up several notches. And the rich browns are the kind of hue that makes you wish winter wouldn't end—particularly if you've bought one of the shearling vests that sent a ripple of approval through the crowd.

Dresses are a Cornejo lover's staple. This time, in easy silks printed with that aforementioned feline's face or a jewel-tone pattern that looked like the cross section of a geode, they tempered the brooding, layered, and hooded mood. "There's lightness in the dark," said Cornejo. Well, now there's also a spotlight, and Cornejo proved herself worthy of it.