Outside looking in is a useful point of view for an artist. It clears the vision. And it's certainly helped Italo Zucchelli wrap his head around the iconography of Calvin Klein. He's been able to isolate and elevate the pieces he sees as iconic in American sportswear. Jeans, bomber jackets, suits, and a soupçon of surf were the pillars of the collection Zucchelli showed today. Clothes for heroes is the way he saw it, and he had the Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire, the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist, and the Giants' Victor Cruz in his front row, just in case anyone missed his point.

Zucchelli has perfected a masterful balancing act between the need to make clothes that fit the Calvin mandate those guys represent and his own desire to explore all the technological possibilities his job offers him. It's best expressed in the fabrics he uses. Why cut a suit from some ordinary material when there's a shimmering micro-pleated fabric on offer? A sporty blouson takes on a whole new life when it's cut from a glossily coated nylon. And athletic mesh adds an exotic finish to a tuxedo lapel.

But these are all areas that Zucchelli has investigated in the past. What made this collection a standout was his new interest in graphics. He's always been the most stone-and-steel urban of designers, but here he lit out for the coast and, as he put it, "a Californian summer." Sun, sea, surf, a lush tropical vibe—none of these elements has ever been part of Zucchelli's design vocabulary before, but he insisted he'd incorporated them into his newly sunny mood. And never was his outsider status more obvious, because sunniness for him was summed up by an abstract print (not exactly a floral, more a "burst," he said). Printed on cotton twill, embossed on cotton sateen, and woven into cotton silk, it was delivered in such dark tones—and, in today's show, to a great whack of metal music that overwhelmed the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations"—that it cast a noir mood over Zucchelli's clothes for heroes. Very L.A., of course—shadows are never darker than when the sun shines brightest. But at the same time, his ability to spark that train of thought illuminates exactly why Zucchelli is such an intriguing, unpredictable designer. On some deep, dark level, he may even be a stranger to himself.