"Paradise lost." That's how Derek Lam described the Hawaii of John Severson's midcentury surf photographs, and the inspiration behind his spring collection. The silhouettes—A-line, above-the-knee, puff sleeves—certainly recalled the sixties, as did his palette of mostly khaki, black, and white. As for beachy accents, the two-time CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist accessorized with fabric leis, sand dollars on leather straps, and silk scarves cinched below the chin.

As retro as it sounds, what made the collection right for modern-day city dwellers was its ease. Sure, a pencil skirt is sexy, but a paper-bag-waist skirt made from cotton voile eyelet is irresistibly weightless. In which one would you rather walk a mile? Lam's Empire-waist gowns in crinkle chiffon seemed to float down the runway, a counterpoint in a season when many designers have gone heavy on the ornamentation, especially for night. If a complaint can be made, it's that a lot of what he showed looked rather young for the prices they will command.