Over the years, Adam Kimmel has perfected the art of the fashion presentation, introducing visual and performance elements that gorgeously complemented his clothes. You have to wonder why he felt it necessary to take what a lot of people would see as a step backward, back to the world of the conventional catwalk show. A new challenge? Or an old frontier?

Kimmel's concept for his new collection was just the kind of twisty fix he's taken on American menswear since he started. He loves an archetype. This time, it was the surfer—but the kind of surfer who nixes the traditional trappings of the activity in favor of something a little more antisocial. "Dark Surfing," Kimmel called it, and the image that evoked was beautifully captured by the back projection for his show, which featured an ominous tube of water curling like Robert Longo's eerie depictions of giant waves, while the Beach Boys sang "The Lonely Sea," the spookiest song ever written about California's beach culture. Given this was his first-ever show, it was appropriately the farthest-out Kimmel has ever gone. And now he was also able to physically cast a group of men to embody his inspiration.

That bit worked brilliantly. His models, both professional and street-cast, were the kind of charismatic individuals he has always sought to dress. But there was something about the rote nature of them parading up and down a runway that detracted from the clothes. Kimmel's designs aren't about bells and whistles, they're made to be felt and lived in, and that utilitarian foundation is a hard thing to communicate in something as overt as a fashion show. What stood out on display was exactly that bit of the inspiration that sounded most dramatic: Over-dyeing turned Hawaiian shirts and a psychedelic print into a sartorial complement to dark surfing. But a show wouldn't help you appreciate Kimmel's reversibles or soft tailoring. If the plainness and functionality of his designs has always been a real strength, it scarcely rewarded scrutiny on a catwalk.