Lars Nilsson, now in his second season at Bill Blass, hit a home run with a collection that is sure to put the venerable fashion house firmly back on the map.

How does a Swedish-born, Paris-trained designer interpret classic American style? By staying true to Blass' legacy of simple sophistication. With witty references to masculine tailoring, Nilsson went for high-waisted trousers, immaculately cut striped blazers, and pale glen-plaid suits. The designer also demonstrated his acuity with color, via floral coats and skirts, a cravat-printed shirtdress, breezy jackets, and dresses stamped with a bold "vegetable tree" motif.

The evening statements, however, were the real newsmakers. Using humble, homespun fabrics like cotton piqué and linen, Nilsson whipped up extraordinary gowns and sweeping ball skirts. Erin O'Connor's final ensemble neatly encapsulated the theme of understated chic: An unassuming pale-blue linen jacket, worn with a painstakingly embroidered sunflower skirt to the floor, looked like a million bucks.