Jimmy Galanos is exhausted. He leans against the wall of the Baroque suite at the Plaza Hotel in New York before his show last week, and speaks softly about his 30 years in busi- ness.

"I've never worked harder than now. The struggle is bigger and bigger than when I was young. There is more work, less time for personal life. It is beginning to wear me down."

He once made avant-garde clothes. "I did crazy things that were interesting on the runway. But no more.

"Isn't it better to make something totally beautiful that a woman can wear and treasure, pull out any time and find it still holds up?"

It pleases him to see Nancy Reagan wear clothes he made for her 25 years ago.

He travels constantly to work with customers. "I have to know what is needed, tempered with imagination and creativity, to give them what is fashion news without being trendy."

He regrets he could never persuade women to wear short beaded dresses for black tie. "I made them two seasons back and 99 percent of the women wanted them floor length." They figured the dresses were a better investment long and not dated by the length.

"Everyone says hemlines are unimportant. But you still have to go along with the times. The customer doesn't want to feel out of sync."