This is one of those moments I wish I were very, very rich," said Marilyn Kaplan, a Neiman-Marcus executive, after the showing of the Gianfranco Ferre collection. She was tossing Ferre the biggest possible compliment--she liked his clothes not only for her customers; she wanted to buy them for herself.

Ferre was the leadoff Italian designer on this week's official calendar of fall ready-to-wear shows. Giorgio Armani, who cut himself off from the official group three years ago, exhibited his clothes on hangers in his boutique for buyers and the press on Sunday.

But today an estimated 2,000 buyers and press viewed the show in the four auditoriums at the Milan Fair building.

Ferre chose the smallest room, with about 500 seats, and used a narrow, mirrored runway, so the models walked two by two without any song or dance. "It is a moment for clothes, not fancy shows," said the designer.

He showed jackets and coats with a roominess provided by big sleeves and fullness at the back, along with similarly shaped thick-ribbed knit sweaters. Below-the-knee skirts are deceptively narrow but eased with a panel, slit or pleat. He colors his clothes with an uncomplicated and clear palette--an off-blue jacket with burgundy lapel worn with gray trousers, and the blouse or shirt underneath in pale blue silk, the color of chambray. On almost everything, he ties a black satin ribbon around the neck in place of jewelry.

Nothing is understated. You pay a lot but you get what you pay for. A blouse is part slubbed silk (the fiber is twisted when spun), part mohair. Sweaters combine shearling and wool, and a rich navy satin cardigan has an underside of wool.

Ferre's blouses, which look simple from the front, now have generous draping in the back and his usual very wide armholes. "I can't tell you exactly why," says the former architect. "But I know it is feminine and new."

In another show, Mariuccia Mandelli, the designer for Krizia, again demonstrated that she is never satisfied working in familiar fabrics. Last season she discovered eel skin. This year she is using rubber and fabrics shined up to look like steel. While her daytime clothes, particularly the lean jacket suits, are winners and her full circle skirts a welcome alternative to all the short, narrow ones around, it is when she is not serious with clothes that the audience cheers. Mandelli always dyes a group of sweaters with animal faces. This year she's honored the grizzly bear. These are guaranteed to spawn a herd of grizzly bear sweaters and prints in Washington stores. And her silver sequins and studs will inject a bit of glitz at the Kennedy Center and elsewhere next fall.

One of the best fashion shows in Milan at the moment is being put on by the fashion crowd and models as they move around the Fair building. The short, black leather skirt is a favorite among visitors.