At the end of the '60s it was "Stan Herman for Mr. Mort," the hot label in the fashion business. Stan Herman, touted as one of the up-and-coming designers in 1965 and the most innovative designer of 1969. Stan Herman, of two Coty Awards, whose linen wrap dress was displayed in three Fifth Avenue stores in the same week, almost unheard of then or now.

Today, it is Stan Herman for Avis and United Airlines and McDonald's.

Ten years ago he abandoned Seventh Avenue to design uniforms.

He still wears the same gold and silver bells he first put on in the mid '60s, but his hair is very short now, the beard has been gone for the last two years. "But I still look pretty much the same," he says, and admits that he squints when he looks in the mirror.

So what went wrong . . . or right for Herman, depending on how you look at it? "I was a dress designer and by the beginning of the 1970s, dress designers were as useful as a sixth finger," Herman says with no apology.

"There was confusion about length. Confusion about how a person should look. A certain leftover in doing your own thing," he figures.

Exit the designer, particularly the dress designer who put forth a total package . . . one dress with all parts together rather than a sportswear mix. And enter the stylist, the editor, who rearranged bits of clothing. "I was a trained sketcher, draper. I did everything. And there wasn't need for me anymore."

Besides, Herman wanted to shake the "for Mr. Mort" tag. And in 1970, after 10 years with Mr. Mort, the firm folded and Herman took a stab at free-lance design.

Gerry Stutz asked him to open a studio at Bendel's; fake fur, lingerie, pattern and knitwear people all got him to design for them. "It was too much, too soon, and I couldn't cope with it," says the designer who still successfully does lingerie and Vogue Patterns.

He still dips into the fabric market to pick the fabric for uniforms, but now he's not into the actual production of clothes, though he steps in as an overseer. No more watching buttons fall off, no more poorly sewn linings, no more mis-sized size 8s.

He has no shortage of ideas. Like the nurses' uniforms that won't be white. White in polyester turns, gray, he says so he is using off-white. ("Gray is depressing," he says. "But I'm a Virgo, and I can't jump to something too different."

His current big problem is that he designs too well. While McDonald's gave him a hard time about the brown uniforms he first created -- they thought brown wasn't conducive to eating -- after four years, they won't give them up.

He admits that he always looks away when he sees a great design on a fashion page . . . "You can spell that e-n-v-y," he says.

"But I have a nice world that I built. I can be my own person. I own it. I pay the bills."