Ralph Rucci cherishes the extreme. In his new collection, one gown featured a bodice of chiffon embroidered with jet in a simulacrum of DNA's double helix. So that's weird. But how's this? When the slit in the gown's gazar skirt was opened, it revealed a hand-painted version of Francis Bacon's iconic "screaming pope" image. Why? "For my own amusement," said Rucci. And, presumably, for the delectation of the woman who would choose to buy and wear a fashion reedition of one of the most famous works of art of the last century.

There is often the feeling with a Ralph Rucci collection that a lot of it exists for his own amusement. His technical facility is such that he can make things happen that you simply don't see in the average, ordinary New York ready-to-wear collection. Here, there was a coat in a cashmere double-bonded with foam (a cashmere neoprene, if you will), another coat in a huge yeti shag of Mylar thread and synthetic hair, and a sheath of leather laser-cut into scales. Each of those outfits represented an obsessive exaggeration of one sort or another. But equally, there was a dress in sober black crepe detailed with a cross shape in tulle. And another dress, also crepe, whose matching jacket was cut away in the back to highlight the way the dress was knotted at the waist. The strictness was such that Rucci could picture them being worn by a female Inquisitioner. Once the designer had implanted that indelible image in one's mind, the rest of the collection marched past in a fetishistic haze.

But fetish is, after all, what the great designers of couture's golden age expertly manipulated to their own ends. Rucci has always been acutely aware of that legacy. Here, however, he seemed to be making a more deliberate commitment to modernism—in, say, the linear quality of a drop-waist dress in micro-bugle beads, or the flashiness of a black vinyl coat. (Rucci is dying to get back to haute couture, and the hot-pink cashmere lining of that coat spoke a quiet volume about the private pleasures of haute dressing.) So it may be no wonder Lady Gaga has come knocking on his door. She craves the rare. Rucci can give her the precious and beautiful to go with it.