Michael Bastian spent last season off the runway, severing ties with his former business partners, taking full ownership of his company, and working out new production contracts to reduce the prices of his all-American but formerly exorbitantly priced menswear. (He famously admitted he couldn't afford it himself.) He's only been gone a year—during which, by the way, he was crowned the CFDA's Menswear Designer of the Year—but today's show at his once and future venue had all the force of a misty homecoming.

For his return, Bastian presented an homage to James Dean, whose squinting, moody visage, picked out in the designer's logo, was splashed over the backdrop. The first model emerged, a fifties kid in dungarees, penny loafers (with pennies; Bastian is nothing if not detail-oriented), and windbreaker—the rebel without a cause of Roy Schatt's famous photo. "I've been keeping this inspiration in my back pocket," Bastian explained post-show. "I had this idea: What if James Dean came back and picked up where he left off? How would he dress?"

The show included bits that were a kind of biography: outfits inspired by pieces Dean actually wore, like the sweater from Schatt's iconic "torn sweater" series; a garage jumpsuit inspired by his love of race cars; and a wrestling singlet—a nod to Dean's days at Fairmount High. (It even read "Fairmount.") But Life of the Saint treatment gave way to an imaginative costuming. Dean died in 1955 at only 24. Who knows what he would have gone on to wear? Bastian offered a wealth of options, playing on his label's own standards, like running shorts and frayed cutoffs, as well as immaculate tux jackets, suits, and the Stubbs & Wootton slippers he prefers. And just as James Dean can be all people, so too, said Bastian, "everyone can be James Dean for a day." Instead of a parade of blondish, blue-eyed facsimiles, he offered Deans of every size, color, and creed—including a female Dean, played by Missy Rayder.

That's the canny bit of the Bastian magic: breadth. It's not a virtue of Dean's. We tend to forget because of his outsize influence, but his canon is impossibly small: just three films. This paean is just the reverse. And that's because—and this is a positive thing—even with his love of spectacle, Bastian is a salesman as much as a showman. Backstage, he revealed he'd doubled the collection's sales. And now it's priced to move.