For Spring, Maria Cornejo had ideas about cultural displacement, heritage, and the search for identity. That's not just the usual designer hyperbole. The Chilean-born Cornejo landed in Manchester, England, as a political refugee and has lived in London, Paris, Milan, Tokyo, and New York. "I always feel that I have all these cultures pulling at me," she said backstage before today's show. Yet, Cornejo has actually sublimated this global swirl—in broad terms, Continental chic with an Asian simplicity and a London girl's irreverence—into a subtle but powerful fashion culture of her very own. It's one that shifts and evolves each season.

The first look out —an all-navy ensemble of a sharply pleated silk top and slim trousers—set a tone of amped-up elegance and suggested a new lightness in Cornejo's codes. The pointy architectural drapes at the hips of her finely tapered pants and jumpsuits fell more softly, and the asymmetric piecing on color-blocked dresses had an intuitive grace. The heritage most apparent here was the designer's own. The cut-out lapel on a drapey black blazer is just the sort of smart detail that gets Cornejo's cult a-shopping, as do the prints on her ever-flattering dresses. This season there was a cool, abstracted close-up of burlap and a languid, painterly marble motif.

The designer recently added Los Angeles to her roster, opening a 2,000-square-foot store on Melrose Place. Was the new locale an influence? "The only thing is I wanted was more beachy dresses," she said. Oceanside is surely the perfect spot for the pop bright tribal print that made an appearance on a small grouping of looks. Then again, the growing population of Cornejo country could take it anywhere.