To what lengths is an up-and-coming designer willing to go in order to keep his career afloat? If the individual in question is Carlo Ponti, there are practically no limits: To finance his third couture presentation, the Roman designer raised funds by go-go dancing in a popular Parisian nightclub.

Ponti's maneuvers paid off. His highly architectural collection, shown at the American Consulate in Paris, left little doubt that the 35-year-old has a bright future in store. Relying on elaborate construction quirks that brought to mind the bold statements of '50s couturier Roberto Cappucci, Ponti gave classic silhouettes a personal, unconventional touch. A satin organza cocktail number came with a spiral scarf that twisted its way around the body; his "Arch" gown featured a dramatic volume of layered taffeta on one side. Ponti's final dress was equipped with a feathered wing that sprouted from the waistline.

Sound pretentious and excessive? It wasn't. Couture is meant to serve as a laboratory of creativity, and Ponti managed to strike a balance between attention-grabbing show-stoppers and more approachable, rigorously crafted pieces. The one regrettable exception: the sleeveless top emblazoned in gold with the word "Butch," which the designer wore to take his bow.