In From England, Fighting Off Dress Lag

What is it about some Englishmen? Not one ragged fingernail, not a scuff on the shoes, the voice and wit as smooth as an old, starched Turnbull & Asser shirt.

"I'm what's known as 'all yours,' " British designer Murray Arbeid says to a visitor who has waited to chat. His clear gray eyes are the same color as his suit, which is Italian, double-breasted and has a Harrods label on the inside pocket. He looks, sounds and is ... sharp.

Arbeid is making the rounds, a couple afternoons at Saks Fifth Avenue in Chevy Chase, as part of a 10-city American tour. "I do visit friends along the way," he confesses, "but don't tell that to Saks." He later says he made the trip in order to pick out a Thermador stove in Los Angeles. "One that self-cleans."

That's the way Arbeid is. "There's more to life than frocks ... I try to keep the hype in perspective," says the self-effacing Londoner who has been designing evening wear since 1954. Sort of England's Arnold Scaasi, he creates pretty silk-velvet and silk-taffeta dresses that turn up on some of the best British backs. Diana, the princess of Wales, recently wore his black velvet dress with a scarlet taffeta skirt and train. And the princess owns many others. "I am immeasurably proud of making clothes for that beautiful lady," Arbeid says. "And to be a tiny, tiny part of that scene is just great."

He met Joan Collins a month ago and she bought dresses from his fall line -- a long tulle gown with glitter stars all over it, a silk-taffeta dress in aquamarine. The quality and prices of Arbeid's designs are hard to rival -- a short evening dress sells from $1,000 to $2,000, long ones from $1,000 to $5,000. But they are handmade by a former seamstress of Balenciaga's, according to Arbeid, and almost entirely made of silk.

He plays with words as well as fabric, a regular British wit. When asked about his "pouf dresses" he acts perplexed. You see, a "pouf" in England is a homosexual, he explains; a "pouffe" is "a padded cushion that you sit on," and "a dress that goes" -- he bows his arms down at his sides -- "like that, is called a 'puff.' " He goes on: "It's not a new shape, for goodness sake, it's flirty and flattering."

After his tour is over, Arbeid says, he will be "trying to regain my sanity" by heading off for a two-week summer vacation at his reed-thatched cottage in Suffolk County, 85 miles northeast of London. He has brought some pictures of the place along with him to combat "withdrawal symptoms." He says, "Listen, I'm suffering from dress lag. I truly am." 'The Untouchables,' Dressed to Kill

Informants tell us that the audiences at "The Untouchables" do not clap until Giorgio Armani's name comes up on the screen.

Armani designed all the men's suits in the movie, except Robert De Niro's for his role as Al Capone, and Marilyn Vance created the rest of the costumes. According to a Paramount spokesperson, De Niro found an Italian tailor in New York's Little Italy who still makes Capone-like clothes. Of course, it's also possible that De Niro, who deliberately gained weight for the role, didn't know how fat he'd finally get. When you're in Chicago and gaining 30 pounds, you might want your tailor closer than Milan.

Armani makes both the gangsters and the good guys look great. Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness is better dressed than any Treasury Department agent before or since. The most memorable outfit, though, is a white three-piece double-breasted Armani suit worn by Billy Drago, who plays evil hit man Frank Nitti. It's a big improvement upon the standard white-tie-with-dark-shirt gangster getup.

De Niro, compulsively authentic, also insisted on wearing the same kind of silk underwear that Capone wore -- from A. Sulka & Co. in New York -- even though it would not be seen on the screen. Imagine what a real pair of Capone's underwear would have done for his performance. Investing In Fashion's Future

The Washington Fashion group's annual scholarship awards to provide funds for students in fashion-related fields were given out last week at the Westin Hotel in Washington.

Long Nguyen, a graduate of Fairfax's Oakton High School who will attend the Fashion Institute of Technology next year, won the first Nina Hyde Scholarship Award of $2,500. Jacqueline Williamson, a graduate of Arlington's Washington-Lee High School, received the $2,500 Eleni Epstein award and will start Parsons School of Design in New York this fall. Niomi Kaiz, a graduate student at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, got the Rivta Rantanen award for $1,500 -- her second Fashion Group scholarship. And, Valerie Acosta, who will be studying fashion merchandising at the University of Delaware this fall, received the Monica Greenberg Scholarship Award of $1,500.

Any inquiries about next year's awards should be sent to The Washington Fashion Group, Inc. P.O. Box 50139, Washington, D.C. 20004-0139. Wedding Day Eye Appeal

"Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses," as Dorothy Parker so cruelly put it.

But do they marry them? Absolutely. Love is blind, but the bride doesn't have to be. Many affianced women who normally wear glasses hunt around for comfortable contact lenses to wear down the aisle. But contacts don't solve every bride's vision problems.

"The most important thing for bridal eye-wear are the antireflective lenses, the no-glare lenses," says Pamela Crespi, eye-wear consultant at Lugene Opticians. "So when she's in photos you will see her eyes and her expression, not the reflection of the flash."

And brides should consider all the options available. The lace of the wedding dress or the veil can be laminated into clear custom frames by Dentelle. For those who prefer something more invisible, a new Ultima frame is rimless with faceted or frosted lens edges.

Crespi thinks the choice of eye wear should reflect the style of the wedding and should not be too trendy. After a few years the wedding pictures will provide enough laughs as it is. Button Up Your Overcoat

Ah the passage of time ... the fall clothes are beginning to dribble in, drop by drop. By the looks of things it's going to be a very cold winter. Some of the warmest clothes, from one of the coldest countries, are already on the shelves.

Designers in Finland are famous for their coats -- no surprise. Tarja Niskanen, whose clothes are sold at Julia's at White Flint, has put overscaled collars and cuffs on her coats for fall, and has designed brightly colored, blizzard-proof reversible fur coats in blue, green or brown.

Washington Post fashion editor Nina Hyde is on assignment.