Talk about a moment of truth: This was Giambattista Valli's all-important sophomore collection, after making a hasty fall debut when his contract at Ungaro was not renewed last year. His first time out, the audience was inclined to be generous, and the reviews came back mostly positive—not least of all because he took the first baby steps toward establishing his own identity, separate from that of his former employer. But would he be able to keep up the momentum in his second outing? That was the question hanging in the air this morning at the InterContinental hotel's Salon Imperial.

The answer—from the first look to the last—is a delighted yes, as themes he introduced for fall reappeared with a greater sense of poise and focus. Mixed in with Jacquard tulip coats and chiffon shirtwaist dresses were Valli's favorite trim jackets, now with a more military flavor and paired with shorts or, less successfully, skinny pants casually rolled up below the knee. After dark, it was all about big volumes—bows, bustles, and balloon shapes. In ivory, lemon, and the palest of pinks, Valli's cocktail frocks and ball gowns hinted at Ungaro's teacher, the masterful Cristobal Balenciaga. Whether you catch the irony in that or not, it's a joy to see a designer who has taken his fair share of knocks bounce back and begin to find that rare thing: his own, strong voice.