"One thing I can say," said Jennifer Phillips last night before a Karl Lagerfeld fashion show, "and that is that a designer has to have a lot of confidence to show his clothes here. They'll have to be special to compete with these surroundings."

Lagerfeld took on the Monets in the Phillips Collection to debut his spring fashions, the first time the new designs had been seen in the United States. And there was no doubt that people like Jennifer Phillips, wife of the museum's director, were pulling for him. First of all, the show and dinner attracted 200 guests, most of whom plunked down $275 each for the privilege. And since Saks-Jandel underwrote the event's cost, about $40,000 went into the coffers of the Phillips' renovation fund.

What's more, Jennifer Phillips, like a number of other women present, was wearing a Lagerfeld design, in her case a long black gown, sequined in a pattern that she said reminded her of Picasso. The dress was cut deeply in the back, prompting one woman to squeal, "Oh, I want to give her a kiss on the back!"

And she did.

Barbara MacGregor, who attended the party with her husband Clark, Richard Nixon's 1972 campaign director, also wore a Lagerfeld design, explaining that "I had to wear this because I knew I was going to see Oatsie."

But Oatsie Charles didn't seem at all fazed by the fact that she was at a Lagerfeld show. "This is pure Oscar," she said of her black and gold Oscar de la Renta gown. "I hate fashion, I hate buying clothes, and I hate fittings. But I'm sure this show will be simply wonderful," she added, looking heavenward.

"I'm here to be enlightened," laughed Jean Smith, who had the attorney general in tow. "Washington is an easy town as far as fashion goes. I'm wearing old clothes and enjoying it," she said, looking down at her slim black dress. "As long as I can zip them."

"Good design is very much related to art," said Phillips Collection director Laughlin Phillips. Asked if Lagerfeld reminded him of other artists he knows, Phillips said, "I didn't see him long enough to know, but I hope so."

Most of the other guests didn't see Lagerfeld long enough to know either, since he skillfully slipped in through the back door, avoiding the cocktail party crush.

Aside from fashion, the other big topic of the evening was the inauguration, possibly because of Michael and Carolyn Deaver's presence. Michael Deaver, deputy White House chief of staff, is the chairman of the inauguration committee. "It will be dignified, yet subdued," he said of the celebration.

"Elegant?" suggested Oatsie Charles.

"I think we're staying away from elegant this time," said Deaver, smiling, referring to the administration's plans to downscale the pomp and circumstance this time around.

Elegant probably wasn't the best word for the fashion show either: "smashing" was a more popular description for the body-conscious, colorful designs.

Lagerfeld emerged after the show for dinner amidst a shower of congratulations. The designer, who's also here to open his new boutique at Saks-Jandel, and for a White House invitation, declined to predict how popular his clothes would be with Washington women.

"It's not for me to say," he demurred. "I hope they like them."

Not everyone was so reticent. "The show was fabulous," said Ronald Lauder, deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy. "Just fantastic."