John Bartlett, whose dark, slightly twisted take on preppy menswear won him critical praise and an ill-fated stint at Byblos in the mid-nineties, has been missing from the design scene for the past two years. Now, after a long, soul-searching trip through Asia, he's back with a renewed focus. He's doing things on a smaller scale this time around; acting as his own PR, working out of his Chelsea apartment, concentrating on design. And his spring show, Bartlett said, was another way to check in with his roots.

The designer installed his models in the Reading Room at the Harvard Club, this Ivy League grad's first address in New York. In that august atmosphere, all leather-bound volumes and coffered ceilings, his work looked fresh, exciting, and reinvigorated. Hip as he is, Bartlett's devotion is to the canon of tailoring: beautiful lapels, elegant fabrics, crisp fit. "I wanted to explore the parameters of the jacket, shirt, and tie combination," he explained. But in his own way, with a fine-tuned color sense that put acid tones of orange, pink, green, and violet against navy, black, and khaki. And in a season full of slouch, Bartlett stuck to a trim, clean silhouette. "It's an American sensibility, not tight, not complicated," he said. In fact, it all looked just right.