"Has the president ever been to a fashion show?" White House deputy chief-of-staff Michael Deaver asked Jerry Zipkin at a Bill Blass fashion show for the Phillips Collection last night.

"I can't remember," Zipkin replied. "It would have to have been in California . . ."

"Does he like them?" a third party asked.

"Well, he does like Bill Blass," said Zipkin, the first lady's friend.

"And he also likes the Phillips gallery," said Deaver, teeth and fist clenched as he signaled, apparently with comic intent, toward Zipkin. Then they both smiled politely at a reporter.

Last night, the Phillips was temporarily transformed from the city's most intimate collection into a flash-lit melting pot of cave-dweller Washington, New York fashion society and Ronald Reagan's White House. Combine three elements like this and you get a synergy that was perhaps best released by the runway models who either smiled or seductively sulked past the Van Gogh and Paul Klee.

"This gallery is a tribute to something that I look forward to seeing improve in this country," said Reagan. "And that is private initiative."

The evening was the idea of Bill Blass, a member of the museum's national committee. He offered the $250-per-person fashion show as a benefit for the museum. Members of the local Phillips Collection council, who are Blass' friends and some of the most established names in Washington, said fine. Then Carolyn Deaver, wife of Mike and a member of the local council, asked the Reagans at the California ranch last See PHILLIPS, B10, Col. 1 PHILLIPS, From B1 month if they wouldn't think about coming. They would.

And there you have it. The evening made $49,000 for the Phillips.

The Reagans moved through the crowd, the perfect party mixers. At one stop, Reagan talked to two guests about party refreshments. "I limit myself to two," he said. At another stop, a reporter asked how his economic address planned for tomorrow night was coming along.

"Well," he said, "I'm still writing my speech. I'm only about halfway."

The Reagans didn't stay for the show, having to move on to the Ambassadors' Ball at the Washington Hilton. But they remained long enough at the reception beforehand for kisses, party talk, lots of hugs -- even a quick rebuttoning job for Nancy.

That was performed by Zipkin, who must have noticed that the buttons on the back of the first lady's green Bill Blass dress were done incorrectly. So, as she was talking to several friends, he stood behind her, rebuttoning. A circle formed to watch.

"Look what Jerry Zipkin is doing to your wife," said New York fashion leader Chessie Rayner to the president.

The president just smiled.

Later, Zipkin said it hadn't happened. What was he doing, then?

"Nothing, nothing," he replied.

The crowd of 200 seemed to like the show, occasionally ooohing and clapping. Sophie Engelhard, the Georgetown dress shop owner, cheered from a corner. Nina Straight, a former Auchincloss and current author, loved the hats. They were bigger than bicycle wheels.

"Someone asked me, 'Where would you wear one of those?' " she said. "And I said, 'Well, you could sort of wander around the house and phone up people and ask them to come over.' "

The party was spread throughout the dark-paneled rooms of the gallery, the rustling taffetas and shimmering silks stealing attention from the paintings above. Lots of women wore Bill Blass, although their old ones. (The new ones haven't been delivered yet.) Members of New York's fashion crowd -- Nan Kempner, Mica Ertegun, Rayner -- were there, so Washingtonians would rather have been uninvited than underdressed.

"I wouldn't dare come to anything for Bill without a Bill Blass dress," said socialite Rose Marie Bogley. "Neiman-Marcus altered it today."

"In or out?" asked a wicked partygoer.

"In," replied Bogley. "In."

Before entering the rooms, guests had to pass through a metal detector, arguably the most prestigious archway a party could have. It means the president's going to be there.

As it happened, the Reagans were deliberately delayed five minutes. This was because of the rain, which made many guests late. (It's terrible to arrive after the president.) Joe Canzeri, a White House aide, made the phone call from the Phillips to the White House, telling them to stall.

Suddenly, a harried Phillips staffer scurried toward Canzeri. "I need the phone, sir!" he said.

Canzeri looked him over, slowly. "Well," he replied, "would you rather have it -- or let me talk to the president?"

The staffer looked stunned. "I'll let you talk to the president, sir," he said.

When Reagan and the first lady arrived, they were greeted by Marjorie Phillips, the former gallery director and widow of Duncan, the founder. Then Nancy hugged Blass a long, long time.

"Look what they made me do," she said to him, referring to her long dress. She had asked Blass to bring her a short dress, and he did -- a red and gold one, yesterday afternoon. But because the dresses for the Ambassadors' Ball were supposed to be long, Nancy Reagan couldn't wear the latest addition to her wardrobe.

Guests at the party included: Pat Buckley, wife of editor William F.; former Mideast negotiator Sol Linowitz; Washington Post Co. board chairman Katharine Graham; statesman Averell Harriman; former Carter counsel Lloyd Cutler; and from establishment Washington, Louisa Biddle, Clayton and Polly Fritchey and former protocol chief James Symington.

The Reagans finished their rounds, then left. The show began. There were 34 models -- 10 famous ones from New York you'd recognize from Vogue ads, plus 24 local ones -- who walked not on a runway but up and down on pedestals through four separate rooms. They slinked, they slithered. If you weren't a regular at designer fashion shows, it was impossible to take your eyes away. Still, some of the models who twirled romantically in full dresses with puffed sleeves got some of the best reactions.

"I loved the colors of all the clothes," said Marjorie Phillips. "And I loved the hats. I always used to wear hats."

"I remember you so well wearing hats," said her son Laughlin, the gallery's director.

"I like those full dresses," said Oatsie Charles, social doyenne. "The ones that are cut to here" -- she put her hand at the small of her back -- "and out to here in the front."

Others were less aware of the clothes than who was in them.

"I came to see the models," said Canzeri. Someone pointed out that most of them are much taller than he is. He said he is 5 feet 7.

"Quality, not quantity," he replied. "I'm interested in their minds."

After the show, there was a sit-down dinner upstairs. It was so hot that the windows were opened. No air conditioning: The security people had blown a fuse.

For dessert there were Bill Blass' Godiva chocolates, naturally. Georgetown author and hostess Susan Mary Alsop took seven for her grandchildren.