When Martin Grant is on form, he can perk up an audience no end. Channeling his considerable experience as a private dressmaker turned ready-to-wear designer, Grant produces clothes that are nicely poised between daintiness and practicality—neither debutante froth nor overblown runway fantasy. His spring collection was triggered, he said, by an artist's smock hanging in his studio. "It was about smocking, gathers, and volumes," he said. "But only vaguely."

He opened with a delicate, forties-feeling pale-pink dress, followed by a curvy rose-colored short jacket over a full, delicately striped knee-length skirt. That was followed by a beautifully simple white linen dress whose gathered bodice clung to the waist and opened into a gentle fullness below—something between innocent peasant and Empress Josephine.

All this ably demonstrated his understanding of summer's lightness and romance. But Grant isn't one to get swept away by a theme. He also wisely developed some of the signature pieces so beloved by his clients (like Lee Radziwill, discreetly watching from the sidelines). Grant's neatly useful coats looked particularly great—for example, a trench with a new trumpet-sleeve detail or a black yoked painter's coat shrugged over a liquid-silver flounced skirt.

Grant's sophisticated nighttime looks demonstrated how thoroughly he's thought about an area many others don't: making an evening dress that is stunning in 3-D. The Empire line and smock idea became raised-waist dresses bloused at the back, handled elegantly in rich silver and platinum fabrics that never turned vulgar. That kind of reality chic explains why Grant is garnering such a loyal following.