Derek Lam set the mood for his lovely spring collection with the first song: Bette Midler's soulful version of "Do You Want to Dance?" It's the kind of bittersweet ballad that put the audience into a wistful, romantic frame of mind—just where Lam wanted them.

The designer (a CFDA/Vogue Initiative finalist) took as his inspiration the torrid affair Helmut Newton had in Singapore with Josette, an older Belgian woman, just before World War II. The silhouettes—calf-length, flowing skirts, a slightly emphasized shoulder, a true waist defined by big belts—certainly recalled that era, as did Lam's use of muted colors, fluttery georgette crepe de chine, and lace.

The overall impression was that any of these looks—flowing ruffled chiffon tea gowns and tiered, polka dot Empire gowns, loose but tailored trousers, soft blouses that tied at the neck—could have come from the closet of a sophisticated European exile. But Lam made it modern with smart looks like high-waisted "coolie" jackets, slim pencil skirts, and a crimson floral print done on a light wrap coat. Soft, drifty evening skirts and gowns in subtle color combinations like chocolate and violet are certain to set hearts beating faster.