You can usually count on Phillip Lim to be squarely on top of the direction of the season. But this Spring, as so many zigged to Technicolor and try-and-top-this prints, Lim zagged toward something refreshing, airy, and minimal—a sartorial sorbet. His reference, in fact, was an object made to fly away: the kite. It was taken literally in tops and dresses sewn from rectangular panels with loose edges that fluttered as the models walked. Colorful strips were sandwiched inside nylon shells and left long to stream about like tails.

After the show, Lim talked about his childhood and how it sparked those pretty pales that looked like they'd been left in the sun, and the charred blacks. But the nostalgia also leaned to nineties Helmut Lang and Jil Sander, which Lim didn't disavow when it was suggested. "I'm a child of the nineties," he said. "Your references are what you grew up with." So while this look was soft, it wasn't sweet. Rather, there was a refined sportiness to those slouchy but elegant silk trousers with track-pant vents that opened over a shoe, and in the layering of macaron hues in very measured doses. Lim's wide culottes were cut like basketball shorts and inset with mesh on the inseams. But the execution was so subtle, you might have never noticed.

Lim says his guiding principle is "sophisticated youth." Backstage he pointed to model Dempsey Stewart in her own chic navy mesh pullover and black jersey skirt to illustrate what he meant. She was ready to hit the street, and that was the point. At a time when lady clothes seem to be the default setting for New York designers, it's nice to see a different approach.