Mariapia Fanfani was in the front row of the Fendi fur show today, the most crowded show in this week's presentations of clothes for fall at the Milan Fairgrounds. The wife of Italy's prime minister, a handsome woman with a boyish cut to her silver-gray hair, Fanfani had a Fendi fur in her lap.

"We must wear fur," she said when asked if she has received criticism for wearing fur, as has Nancy Reagan. "We wear fur because it is chic," she said with a grin. She considered her answer, then turned back to add, "We must wear fur to continue the Fendi art."

The five Fendi sisters' craftsmanship with fur and Paris-based designer Karl Lagerfeld's design inventiveness produced the first standing ovation of the week. More than 200 examples, worth about $1.5 million, proved there is no limit to the cut and color and treatment that can be given a fur. Whatever the Fendis do, the effect is always big and rich and glamorous. At one point, the music was appropriately, "Putting On the Ritz."

The new Fendi-Lagerfeld slant on fur is, in fact, slant. Stripes are on the bias, cuts are uneven, the hem is often up and down. A coat that has one normal sleeve has another that is cut and works like a shawl. The Fendis call it "destabilizione," which translates as "unsettled." Says Carla Fendi: "Nothing is stable anymore."

There are more ideas. They divide a coat into half Mongolian lamb and half squirrel. They mix python and rabbit. There is a golden sable cape on a summer ermine coat. "It makes the sable coat, which might be $80,000," explained Carla Fendi, "far more affordable."Karl Lagerfeld does accessories as well. In the spirit of the evening, there were rope belts, and necklaces that looked like lumps of coal.

There were other bows to the economy. The Fendis introduced their cheaper "Fendi 365" collection, expected to sell for one-third the usual Fendi price, on models who carried brooms and mops with their printed furs. Some of the furs were shaped like aprons, the Fendis' homage to the working woman.

Earlier in the day, Laura Biagiotti showed her collection to a packed house that included Ruth Rabb, the wife of Maxwell Rabb, U.S. ambassador to Italy. Rabb was wearing a navy Biagiotti outfit "and a touch of red to bring my friend Laura good luck." She had come up from Rome for the occasion "because she is my friend and because she supports my drug rehabilitation projects," Rabb explained.

Biagiotti is the queen of cashmere and carried some of her very successful schemes, such as shirring cashmere on the bias, into this new collection. Often, her dresses appeared to have attached scarves that could be tied several different ways.

On Tuesday, designer Gianni Versace gave the women attending his early morning show a traditional bouquet of yellow mimosa, in honor of Woman's Day in Italy. Versace, who has always been the most inventive of the Milan designers, showed a collection that refined many of his favorite themes, including leather and metal mesh. Many here called it his best collection ever. Among the winners were gray tweed suits, boxy coats and batwing-sleeved, white-silk blouses.

Ottavio and Rosita Missoni, master knitters of patterned sweaters and coats, added more coats than ever this time, including many that reverse from knit to quilt and are often shown with a sweater to match underneath. The color scheme for the knits this season seems to come from the Missonis' successful men's collection of sweaters. Most of the sweaters were shown with long swingy corduroy skirts, but it makes little difference since they will be bought mostly to wear with what one already owns. They showed far more dresses than before, including knitted coat dresses, the hands-down favorite dress shape in New York as well as Italy.

In another collection, Keith Vartey, who designs for Byblos, jazzed up his easy coats with bolts of bright colors on black and used a combination of gray and black together, a design trend that in recent seasons has been a favorite of Japanese designers.