Some places are even harder to get into than the Paris fashion shows.

Karen Homewood, couture buyer for Saks Jandel, was to meet Val Cook, the store's vice president, Tuesday night at the American Embassy residence, where Cook was staying. After fighting traffic on the Faubourg St. Honore', Homewood got out of her cab and raced to the palatial building she assumed was the residence and approached the front gate.

"I'm Karen Homewood, and Val Cook is expecting me," she told the police who surrounded her. "That got me into the shows all week," Homewood said later, adding that she thought, "How strange it isn't working now."

The police asked for her passport, and as she dug it out from the bottom of her satchel she kept insisting, "Madame Cook expects me" and "Je suis ame'ricaine."

"I know I looked like a bag lady, with a huge raspberry tart stain, but I'd had no time to change all day," Homewood said. She was surprised that Cook hadn't alerted her to the "heavy duty police."

Once they had her passport, they opened the huge iron door and escorted her into a courtyard, where still more police, all armed, joined the huddle.

"If I had been someone who wanted to, I could have charged ahead and gotten right into the house," said Homewood, who by then was beginning to realize she was in the wrong place. It was the Elyse'e Palace, the office and sometimes residence of French presidents.

A young blond policeman "who looked like he'd only shaved once in his life" came forward when Homewood asked to talk to someone who spoke English. She showed him a piece of paper with Cook's phone number on it, and scribbled down the embassy residence address. The police huddled again. Finally they realized the mistake, and with great laughter escorted Homewood back through the gate and pointed down the street to the American residence.

Once there -- by now two hours late for her appointment -- Homewood rang the bell and announced through the intercom, "Madame Cook is expecting me."

Without any delay someone opened the door and let her in.