As a relative newcomer to the Paris haute couture season, Ralph Rucci can only be a welcome addition to the fast-dwindling schedule. On the other hand, he is American; that, plus his rigorously specific approach to fabric, structure, and volume, still makes him an outsider whose clothes, though meticulous, don't go with the flow of the European sensibility.

That's not to say he isn't gradually ramping up the theater of his previously understated presentations; showing in the pool of the Ritz Hotel (formerly Versace territory), for example. But his fans included a far more refined group of U.S. aristocracy, led by Lee Radziwill and the American ambassador. Rucci opened with a dramatic surprise: a chocolate alligator tunic, worn with matching thigh-boots and domed hat. What followed, however, was more in keeping with the idea of artistic appropriateness that is his trademark.

Rucci has developed a recognizable handwriting that is all in the details. He loves double-faced cashmere, swing coats, cigarette pants, tailoring in broadtail, subtle micro-beaded embroidery. He often underscores the fine technique by outlining each piece of fabric in raised seams or sheer inserts, or this season, connecting them with rows of tiny buttons. Even though he's not a man for an overt theme, his personal obsession with Asia always comes through, as well as his penchant for fabrics painted with splashy abstract art.

Rucci's confidence with his own kind of daywear is producing a convincing personal style. What he's less good at is flou—the art of sensuous dressmaking that is one of couture's hallmarks. His handling of duchesse satin in the evening gowns had an awkward stiffness, and that—if he's going to step up to Paris standards—is something he needs to work on.