Note the pivot point. Not Perry Ellis, not Duckie Brown: Perry by Duckie. That's key. Finessing the interplay between Perry Ellis—not the moribund label of recent years, but the late designer, who in the seventies and eighties was a triumvir of American sportswear, mentioned in the same breath as Calvin and Ralph—and Duckie Brown is the challenge set for newly appointed creative directors Steven Cox and Daniel Silver. "We're a little damned if we do, damned if we don't," said Silver. "People are going to go, 'It's very Perry, where's Duckie?'; people are going to go, 'It's very Duckie, where's Perry?'"

Duckie is decadent. There's no menswear designer working harder against the grain in New York than Steven Cox, Silver's partner. Perry was, too. But though he was playful and witty about tradition—at today's show an industry veteran who worked alongside him remembered the word most often applied to his clothes was "quirky"—he largely operated within, rather than against, convention. The tag "American sportswear" still hangs (and hangs accurately) on his work. Not so Cox's. "American sportswear seems to me, like, 1960-something," he said. "I was born in England. I don't know about cheerleaders, I didn't go to a prom. I have no reference that a lot of American designers do."

Duckie's opening salvo for Perry was neither an all-out attack on orthodoxy nor a bland imitation of the original. Instead, Cox and Silver took a very Perry concept—tonal dressing, in the very Perry color of khaki—and played it from every angle. "We wanted to show every shade of khaki," Cox said. "I had this idea of an army of khaki." He goosed shades from the standard that, by the end, surprised you with their breadth, riding a gradient wave from wheat to gold to spice to stone to dusty rose.

The pieces themselves tweaked proportion—the short jackets Ellis favored (a mac, a back-bowed trench); the drop-crotch "curved trouser" that's all Brown. There were plays on classic Ellis motifs, like dots, both outspoken (a dotted sweater) and subtler (the microdot motif on a raglan bomber and pleated short). Whoever could claim credit for them, there were some great, approachable pieces: a caban and a work jacket in a heavy, striped canvas more often used as a luggage fabric; a buttery suede bomber; trousers in windowpane checks and plaids. All in all, this was a considered and commendable first step. What's next? To be continued. Which is to say, dot, dot, dot.