Ralph Rucci skipped a proper show this season in favor of one-on-one appointments. That meant there was no Martha Stewart or Whoopi Goldberg to gawk at, but there was something better: the opportunity to examine the couture-quality workmanship that is this designer's calling card. Rucci admitted that despite his wealth of blue-chip clients, the recession has been difficult for his business. For Spring, he's made adjustments, turning out more pieces in less precious fabrications, including an on-trend cotton jumpsuit and an easy cotton and suede sleeveless shift with blousonlike volume on top.

On the other hand, Rucci has also kicked up the exquisite touches. Take a black skirtsuit spliced, in his signature fashion, with tulle. This time around, he's created a three-dimensionality to the insets by adding horsehair to the seams. Sure, it's the kind of subtle detail that only a sophisticated eye would notice and appreciate, but challenging himself is how this workaholic designer gets his kicks. Rucci did it again and again, with a cement gray chiffon frock ripped and re-stitched to evoke tiny bamboo trees, and jewel-tone taffeta braided onto the tulle bodices of other dresses. A long black hammered silk dress topped by a white bugle-beaded sweater was more minimal, meanwhile, but hardly plain. That word doesn't figure in Rucci's vocabulary.