"None of us really needs more clothes," observed veteran L.A. retailer Jerry Magnin just before the fall collections opened in Milan and Paris this month.

If need no longer motivates the apathetic fashion consumer, what does? Excitement? Entertain ment? Maybe it's desire--our desire to look sexually attractive, or cool, or rich or ugly-but-aesthetically-superior. (You know who you are.)

Advertising is one way of tweaking consumer desire. The other way is by staging elaborate displays of visual imagination, money and attitude for the media--2,000 of whom are gathered here for the fall '95 collections.

Thierry Mugler didn't pour a reported $20 million into his 20th-anniversary show Thursday night so buyers and press could see how well his new line is constructed. The blowout at the Cirque d'hiver was meant to remind us that Mugler remains a potent purveyor of fantasy.

Patty Hearst performed a striptease. Jerry Hall tossed long blond hair over creamy white shoulders. For a night, at least, Mugler tapped into the sex-happy Zeitgeist of a time gone by.

That was the problem, some complained. An outdated fantasy is a dead one.

Look how fast fashion's attempt to recycle the '40s last season fell on its face. New is better. New and slightly elusive is best of all.

The general consensus here is that the fashion fantasy du jour belongs to the be-dredded John Galliano. Criticized last season as merely a fabulous imitator of past fashion masters, the designer broke new ground with his fall collection. Bordering on couture, the long, pencil-thin skirts and short, sculptural capes were the costumes of an anti-fashion show that made most of the others look obsolete.

A vast old warehouse near Pigalle, Paris' red light district, was the backdrop for Galliano's tale of romance, betrayal and heartbreak. The cinematic reality began the moment the audience passed through the double doors of an antique wardrobe and into a snow-covered landscape.

Models, in heavy Kabuki-esque makeup, moved like modern dancers through the audience atop a layer of rock-salt snow. At center stage, a sailor was in the throes of deep ennui.

Galliano's vision included Spanish dancers who didn't dance. Women in white, who were venal, and women in black, who weren't.

A bias-cut gown in heavy, fuchsia silk charmeuse was lined in vivid yellow. The boned jacket of a simple black pantsuit stood away from the body, a shapely piece of sculpture. "I want that," you think to yourself.

A conservatively dressed man watched the entire show with his mouth open. He wasn't alone. "Will someone please explain that to me?" asked a frustrated woman.

As we head into the fin de siecle, extravagance--rendered politically incorrect by the recession--is rearing its well-coiffed head at nearly every show. Deconstruction is out. Construction is in. As are displays of wealth, indulgence, aggression, cigarettes, real fur and real diamonds.

It's ever so much fun watching it all pass before you, this over-the-top parade. But still, won't we all hate ourselves in the morning?

Oh, who cares? Let them wear Lacroix! And we can, now that he's toned things down a bit, the better to appreciate all those sumptuous fabrics, laces and embroidery.

At the other shows:

Jean Paul Gaultier: Where's the party? Wherever JP is found. To the hypnotic beat of tribal drums, Gaultier sent group after group of ingeniously crafted leathers, sweaters, jumpsuits, coats and quilted neoprene evening gowns. On Paris Premiere, the local cable station that repeats videos of the shows late at night, Gaultier gave a lengthy, lively interview, the only words of which in English were "New Age Traveler" and "Mad Max." You need know no more. High points: For all the club animal trappings, many of the pieces were simple and to the point, like narrow knit separates for men and women trimmed in fake fur, or a red pantsuit sprinkled with just a handful of glitter at the shoulders. Most likely to be ripped off: Gaultier's full-length windbreakers, with fur-trimmed hoods, snaps and a drawstring around the hem. Wonder if it turns into a sleeping bag?

Christian Dior: All the restraint Gianfranco Ferre exercises in his own collection flies out the window when it comes to designing Dior. Dedicated to the woman for whom more is more--more rhinestones, braiding, tassels, buttons, draping, fringe, shirring and sequins than Jil Sander will use in six, maybe seven lifetimes. All of it modeled to the dulcet tones of one Mr. Barry White. High points: It was a magical moment when Nadja Auermann opened the most wonderful oversized black patent-leather bag (stylish substitute for ugly briefcase) and pulled from it a leopard-spotted jacket. Too cool. As was everything leopard.

Rifat Ozbek: Poor Rifat was the only designer so far to have suffered from the French press's threat to walk out on any show delayed longer than 30 minutes. (No one walked out on Gaultier and he was an hour late.) Still, the British designer (could that have been the problem?) created an eclectic collection, mixing high-tech fabrics and low-tech accessories that deserved the goofy titles listed in the program, like "Shiva Diva" and "Ethnic Astronaut." High points: fur-trimmed brocade ankle boots, celestial-patterned ink-blue narrow skirts and matching tops, warm and furry feather accessories, long knit coats with purple and brown velvet sleeves. Low points: Ozbek's worlds collide when the designer tries to squeeze too many ideas into too little space, i.e., leopard-skin-print pants topped by a menswear jacket and paisley shawl.

Comme des Garcons: It was hard not to view Rei Kawakubo's collection without wondering how criticism over her recent menswear collection (the Jewish Congress called a group of prison-like striped pajamas offensive) might have affected it. Women's Wear Daily reported that Kawakubo was refused permission to show in her customary venue and Reuters reported that some writers had been banned from the show. At any rate, the collection was, we were told, all about sweetness. And sweet it was, a parade of waffle-textured pastels, scalloped hemlines and ruffled-front pinafores. High points: buttercup yellow and bubble-gum-pink spun-sugar jackets. Low points: full-length ball-gown skirt, stiffened with crinolines and boasting what could only be described as a vacuum-cleaner hose or trunk in front, prompting spontaneous giggles in the audience.

Dries Van Noten: As he showed last season, this former member of the Belgian deconstructionist movement has been completely reconstructed. Some of the pieces were too Prada-esque, but most of the silhouettes were youthful and offbeat. High points: coats that don't look as if they came from Mom's closet, including a banana-colored mohair coat, a fluid purple trench coat, and a slightly exaggerated '50s-style swing coat with oversized cuffs. Fitted, short-sleeved wool tops paired with narrow, long skirts. Very '50s/modern. Low points: oversized jackets in menswear fabrics that looked straight from Dad's closet.

Next: Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Emanuel Ungaro, Romeo Gigli and Givenchy.

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