BY DESIGN : The Glamour Queen : Pamela Dennis Mixes Sexy With Elegant in Evening Wear

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Cindy Crawford, RuPaul or Jamie Lee Curtis turn on the glamour, they very often turn to designer Pamela Dennis.

Curtis tangoed in a slinky Dennis dress at the end of "True Lies." The actress also wore the designer's short beaded dress to the film's London premiere.

"I rolled it in a ball and carried it in my backpack," Curtis said. She and other Dennis fans--who don't hesitate to drop $1,000 to $2,000 for an evening gown--gathered at Fred Hayman Beverly Hills last week to see a trunk show of the designer's holiday and resort collections.

"People want to look elegant and sexy at the same time," said the slender, blond 34-year-old designer, whose dresses are generally cut along simple, body-hugging lines. "There's a comeback of glamour, but it's a quiet glamour. There's less beading."

Fred Hayman has carried Dennis' dresses since she started seven years ago (ultimately choosing a career in fashion over law school). Today she's one of the top three evening-wear labels in the store.

Her holiday looks are varied: tiny dresses, mermaid gowns, tuxedos with cigarette pants, bust-enhancing Empire dresses, long columns and evening separates. The clothes are sexy enough to turn heads but fall a few raised eyebrows short of a Cosmo cover. For example, Dennis supplies nude liners under lace (in four shades to match various skin colors). Midriffs are never bared because her customer, she says, simply doesn't want to show that part of her anatomy. And skirts are almost always longer than 18 inches.

Dennis listens to her customers and credits part of her success to her willingness to be flexible. A strap, for example, might be widened to accommodate a bra. And the designer worried before the trunk show about the relative comfort of one particular style.

"To be honest, I don't know how this corset thing is going to do," she said of the season's ubiquitous built-in corset look. "But if it makes them feel secure, they'll wear it." By the end of the show, it turned out to be a bestseller, along with her little daytime suits.

Fred Hayman doesn't release figures, but Dennis said a good trunk show can bring in $200,000, and this one, which carried on well after store closing, appeared to be right on track.

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