The way Patrick Kelly figures it, he started in the couture business. "I used to make one-of-a-kind dresses for models and out-of-work actresses long before I had a ready-to-wear business."

So it's no surprise that Kelly has done a small couture collection that will be shown in Paris Wednesday. Besides, the Mississippi native has a lot to celebrate -- a new showroom in the Marais, down the street from Azzedine Alaia, and a new liaison with Linda Wachner, head of Warnaco, the backer of his ready-to-wear line who also insisted on backing his small couture collection. Before Wachner came into the picture, Kelly had thought of making only 10 pieces or so; now he's showing 50.

The trouble was finding a place on the calendar, but as with his ready-to-wear, Kelly will show after Yves Saint Laurent's second show. Kelly's clothes will be made by hand, as is the manner of the couture, but with a difference -- he'll use cashmere plaid and Lycra, not usually a couture fabric. One cashmere he's using is so light it took a seamstress almost two months to cut it.

"My clothes are body-conscious, but really very wearable and not outlandish," Kelly says.

He's also having a great time with the accessories. There are lynx hats and muffs dyed in bright colors -- "things that I could never afford to do for pre~t-a`-porter," Kelly says.

He's excited about his jewelry, made by a designer named Harmony he discovered in Harlem. "My friends from other houses who have seen the jewels are mad for them; I just hope they won't steal Harmony from me ...

Kelly knew he was on the right track, even before the first piece was presented in his show. Harvey Nichols, a London specialty shop, placed a major order, and designer Maude Frizon and entertainer Regine already own dresses from the collection in the works.