"It is like doing a classic dance," says designer Karl Lagerfeld about his current design preject, the couture collection for Chanel that will be shown later this month. Lagerfeld has researched the original Coco Chanel designs far beyond the archives at the House of Chanel. And he has come up with shapes that spin off designs less familiar than the classic Chanel suit with a short boxy jacket and skirt that ends just below the knee.

Lagerfeld would give just a few clues about his Chanel collection. Chanel "liked tight jackets," he says, and apparently Lagerfeld likes long, fitted jackets, too. He also plans to show many longer skirts that he found among the early Chanel sketches, which he says look very modern.

"This is like designing in another world," says Lagerfeld, who creates very expensive ready-to-wear clothes for Chloe in Paris, furs for Fendi in Italy, and dresses and suits for the Italian manufacturer Alma. "This [couture] is another kind of sophistication, very refined and very civilized. There are things you can only do in couture," says Lagerfeld, giving as examples some of the dressmaker details that are too time-consuming and costly for ready-to-wear. "We might use a border on a suit that costs $500 for the border alone," he says.

Lagerfeld also has updated some Chanel signatures, including the classic buttons and accessories. "It would be very boring if I couldn't find a more modern way."

The uncommonly mild weather has left a number of people out in the cold without proper protection. Dr. Murray Hamlet, who heads up the Army's Cold Research Division at the Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass., offers these reminders: Runners shouldn't forget hand and head coverings as well as wind protection -- Gore-Tex, the remarkable surface treatment that is lightweight, porous yet waterproof, is best. "An antiperspirant deodorant used on the feet three times a day for a week (and much less after that) will inhibit the sweat rate of the feet; feet and socks will stay dry and the feet warmer," he says.

Other cold-weather tips that might have been forgotten since the last freeze: creams and lotions -- Neutrogena is Hamlet's favorite -- seal up the skin and offer protection; eyeglass stems keep ears away from the head, making ears more susceptible to frostbite; dangle earrings -- while more chic -- conduct cold to the ears. (Hamlet is down on all earrings. He says, "Women are reluctant to pull on hats that hide earrings.") He also encourages baggy stockings and no panty girdles. "You have to be careful about cutting off the blood flow."

And, when you get too hot with all your warm duds, warns Hamlet, start letting the heat out of your system by pulling your stocking cap above your ears.

The spiffiest event in Washington this year is likely to be the party Feb. 22 honoring Hubert de Givenchy and his fashion retrospective, a benefit for the National Museum of Women's Art. Tickets are $150 a person and 45 of the 60 tables are already reserved. Garfinckel's won't say just who is coming, but when you consider that Givenchy's best chums include Deeda Blair, Bunny Mellon, Mercedes Kellogg and Elieth Roux, it is guaranteed to attract a dazzling crowd. No word on whether Audrey Hepburn is coming, but her famous dress from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" will be in Garfinckel's window about then.

You won't have to go to the dinner to see the restrospective, the same one exhibited last year at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. It's open to the public Feb. 15 though 24 at Departmental Hall on Constitution Avenue.

We don't suppose the mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac, discussed tailors with President Reagan when they met this week. But according to designer Guy Laroche, Chirac is a pretty snappy dresser. In fact, Laroche sent a high-speed communication (followed by a phone call) timed to alert all that Chirac, with a suitcase full of Laroche designs, was en route to Washington. According to the memo, Countess Jean de Lipkowski, who with her husband accompanied Chirac on this trip, was outfitted by Laroche as well.

Busy women apparently want to learn about clothes as much as they want to eat lunch. And if they can do both at the same time, all the better. Thus the Smithsonian's Resident Associates Program lecture series on Fashion and the Working Woman. Guest speakers include Hanne Merriman, president of Garfinckel's; Alida Morgan of Saks-Jandel; Jim Weatherly, accountant and budget analyst at HUD; SEC Commissioner Barbara Thomas; Barbara Dickstein from the Smithsonian and Dr. Norman Tamarkin, psychiatrist. Janet Wallach, author of "Working Wardrobe -- Affordable Clothes That Work for You," is coordinating the series. (Tuition $113 for non-members, $87 members includes a box lunch.)

Halston is not the only big-league designer label you will see at JCPenney this spring. Adolfo, who master-minds many of the knitted suits and splendid evening gowns Nancy Reagan and others prefer, will do a collection of boys' wear for the chain.

We know of Picasso plates, but Picasso perfumes? The name is from Paloma, not Pablo. Paloma, the artist's daughter, is a jewelry designer for Tiffany and lives in both Paris and New York. The perfume will be out in a year.

Fashion shows start revving up in Washington again in February. Along with the Givenchy events mentioned earlier, the following shows are planned: Saks Fifth Avenue will put on the annual Heart luncheon at the Washington Hilton Feb. 10; a Valentino fashion show Feb. 23 follows the movie "Son of Chic," a benefit for the American Film Institute at the Kennedy Center; millinery designer Frank Olive will be at Neiman-Marcus Feb. 12, and Alfred Fiandaca at the same store Feb. 26 and 27; Hecht's is putting on a "Fabulous '50s" dance party in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School gym Feb. 12; Garfinckel's will have a fashion show by Hawaiian designers Feb. 28; Lord & Taylor will do a benefit show for the Northern Virginia Heart Association Feb. 2, and for Soroptomist International Feb. 23.

Those black $5 watches that never got to Washington before Christmas are finally here and guess what, they are cheaper than $5. In fact, they're free with a $50 purchase from the Up Against The Wall warehouse at 1008 F St. NW. So far they have given away 600.