The Ruffo Research collection serves two purposes: it draws attention to the experimental capabilities of one of Italy’s premier leather companies, and it acts as an incubator for young talents, who are invited to design the line in two-season stints.

For spring 2003, Haider Ackermann, a 31-year-old resident of Antwerp, Belgium, took up the Ruffo baton, previously held by fellow countrymen A.F. Vandevorst, Ve;ronique Branquinho and Raf Simons. Does Ackermann share their Belgian moodiness? Yes, but with his own angle. Like many current post-deconstructionist designers, he interprets “edge” to mean a respect for quality and elegance that can appeal to a sophisticated audience.

His instinct is to upgrade cool street clothes for grown-ups. Here, that meant track pants in a flattering cut, narrow jackets, easy dress shapes and subdued grays, brown and white. He met the Ruffo challenge by folding and weaving its suedes and leathers as if they were fabric. He turned the softest suede into sunburst-pleated skirts and poncho dresses and made slim track pants out of fine plissé skins. The best pieces were a brilliantly cut plain mushroom pinafore with a sexy racer back and a delicately pleated and perforated white skirt.