Here's what happens when you design for the first lady:

Women's Wear Daily, the gospel of the fashion trade, is back in the front row after 10 years of not covering your collection.

Princess Doria, an Italian who shops mostly at St. Laurent in Paris, takes her first step outside the house following a horseback riding accident and flies in from California to see the show.

Gustav Zumsteg, the leading fabric designer who collaborates with Yves St. Laurent, flies in from Zurich for the day to witness the collection.

More buyers, more socialites, more press want to see, cover and wear your clothes.

What it doesn't do is make you a better designer. Fortunately for James Galanos, whose collection for fall was shown at the Plaza Hotel yesterday afternoon before an audience of about 300, that was no problem. He let no one down.

Galanos, as usual, has taken an independent direction. He layers the clothes, which builds new shapes and varies the balance of the silhouette. He experiments with many shapes and lengths of pants, including shorts, See GALANOS, C7, Col. 1 GALANOS, From C1 knickers and harems in combination with tunics and dresses. He sculpts generous shapes with full sleeves, cape-back dresses and sweeping skirts, but also likes an extremely lean line. He opts for Rembrandt tones, rich paisleys and roses borrowed from old tapestries. He uses lots of black, sometimes barely brightened with pin stripes or a dash of rich color, and then for evening breaks out some of the most luxurious fabrics available in the world.

"People are interested in quality," says Galanos, wearing a white silk suit, his pink shirt opened at the neck not because he's a Californian, he says, but because it is hot. "Everything is costly today. People see now that things that are poorly made are even expensive. And now we are buying unbelievably luxurious fabrics." His prices start at $2,000 and climb past $10,000, even $15,000. "I don't like it, but what can I do?"

Still, the raves for the collection were so reverent, the fashion pros had trouble comparing him to any living designer:

As great an architect as Charles James, the late and controversial design genius, said fashion intellectual Bob Riley, once costume curator and now head of the Design Laboratory of the Fashion Institute of Technology. ("No one gives form and shape to clothing as Jimmy," added Riley.)

As great as the late, great Norman Norell, said Jo Hughes, grande dame of fashion, formerly at Bergdorf Goodman, now with Martha's.

His clothes are more beautifully made than anything in the French haute couture, Princess Doria recalled French couturier Hubert de Givenchy saying recently. The two designers met not long ago in California.

But some things don't change for Galanos, even after he provided Nancy Reagan with the one-shoulder, white beaded inaugural gown now headed for the Smithsonian and even though he made four of the dresses she wore in London during the royal wedding activities.

He still lives in California. He moved there after working in Paris when he couldn't get a job in New York. He still comes to New York, three months after all the other American designers have shown their collections, the clothes flown east in nine custom-made steamer trunks with all of his hats, jewelry, shoes and even hosiery.

As usual, the showing was a Monday afternoon in August, after the French haute couture had already had their say. As usual, the collection was shown in the Baroque Suite at the Plaza and yesterday, at least, it was barely air conditioned. Champagne was passed briefly before the showing, but then it was down to serious business. The big retail guns were there -- Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman-Marcus, Elizabeth Arden, Bergdorf Goodman, Martha's -- all in the front row. No music. A directrice of the house called the numbers as models took the traditional fast-paced walk the length of the runway. One hundred fifty designs were shown in 11/2 hours.

Two years ago Galanos did a collection almost entirely in pants and culottes and the buyers asked for skirts. He fears that will happen again. "Pants are a look. They are comfortable. They take away from just being a dress. You get the two elements, the dress and the pants." As for the layering, "It is for the sculpture," he says. "I hate layering if it is a lot of material dragging around. I do layering for the proportion, for the balance."

He adds philosophically, "Everything has been done before. All these add special elements. Just to do a dress or a suit is not enough. One must do more." There are no special bows to Nancy Reagan in the new collection, Galanos insists, not even the fact that he has made more things in red than ever before. Nancy Reagan hadn't seen the collection, so he doesn't know if she'll like the pants. "I do my own thing. I'm pleased that she looks wonderful and enjoys the clothes."