There could have been no greater contrast, on the last day of New York Fashion Week, than that between the Chado Ralph Rucci show and Jennifer Lopez's Sweetface debut. Trend driven, youth oriented, and mass marketed, the latter is everything Chado is not. Backstage at Chado, however, opera diva Renée Fleming and style icon Deeda Blair gushed with enough teenage ardor to rival any J. Lo fan.

That ardor was wholly deserved, for the workmanship of the clothes—particularly an aubergine alligator coat with insets, and a freshwater-pearl-embroidered bodice—was breathtaking. The first American to be asked to present couture in Paris, Rucci had to cancel his show there this season, but closed today with 15 looks that would have appeared during the spring couture.

Rucci described the theme of the collection as "suspense, in both senses of the word," and it was true: Almost every look was pieced and hung back together with Calder-like precision. Highlights included a black crepe dress with insets; a suede-back golden sable coat, worn open and belted (the designer's luxe take on the puffer); an Empire dress and wrap, beaded after a Franz Kline painting; and a gown with an alligator torso that fell over a fuller underskirt constructed of a shower of quarter-size paillettes. Never mind the red carpet—this dress deserved an Oscar of its own.