Unlike fashion itself, books on fashion never go out of style. They may be as costly as a Herme`s scarf, but they are always beautiful, timeless and appealing to a vast audience.

This is a year of exceptionally good fashion books. Rizzoli and Vendome, for example, have produced a collection of books worthy for their fascinating texts as well as their remarkable photos. In "Dior," issued first in France on the 40th anniversary of the New Look, Franc oise Giroud, French minister of culture when Dior dropped the hemlines in 1947, tells the intriguing story of the man and his impact on the world. The many photos include those of clients Ava Gardner, the Duchess of Windsor and Princess Caroline of Monaco, as well as sketches and close-ups of Dior's designs.

"Poiret," by Yvonne Deslandres with photographs by Jean-Michel Tardy and Jacques Boulay, documents the inventiveness and impact of this turn-of-the-century designer who made clothes for Sarah Bernhardt before opening his own fashion house. He was a fashion tyrant who banned corsets and loved strident colors, minaret skirts, kimono sleeves, exotic embroidery and harem pants.

Also from Rizzoli comes "Fashion and Surrealism," by Richard Martin, who was one of the curators of the exceptional exhibition of the same name at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Worth noting from Vendome is Nicholas Courtney's "Luxury Guide to Shopping in London." He explores not only the obvious luxury shops and well-known department stores but also the specialized food shops of Soho and Covent Garden. Fashion is seen from another fascinating viewpoint by Prince Jean-Louis de Faucigny-Lucinge in "Legendary Parties," also from Vendome. Such hosts and hostesses as Carlos de Beistegui, the Marquis de Cuevas and Baron and Baroness Guy de Rothschild are featured. Horst, Cecil Beaton and Man Ray photographs document the lavish dress and de'cor at these affairs.

"CQ, Canine Quarterly for the Modern Dog," by Ina Schell, is this season's follow-up to the very clever "Dogue" of last year. A tongue-in-jowl poke at Gentlemen's Quarterly, it includes articles by Rona Basset, Jane Pawley, Dr. Ruth Weimaraner, Craig Clawborne and Betty Cocker. As in its female counterpart, the spoofs spill over from the ads to editorials. It's not as clever as "Dogue," but then it is hard to tell the same joke twice.

Barbie Millicent Roberts -- known more familiarly as Barbie of doll fame -- is 28 years old and her clothes, her hair, her posture and makeup, even her facial features reflect that passage of time. BillyBoy, an American-born jewelry designer who lives in Paris, has collected more than 10,000 Barbie dolls, and through his connections in the fashion world he has had more than 2,500 of them dressed in miniatures of clothes by Elsa Schiaparelli, Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga and others. Yves Saint Laurent has had models from several collections miniaturized for BillieBoy's Barbie collection, with hair done appropriately by Alexandre. Marc Bohan of Dior and Emanuel Ungaro also have done mini versions of their couture styles for his dolls. "Barbie, Her Life and Times" (Crown Publishers) is a book for those who have grown up with Barbie and want to understand why they, and she, have changed.

"The Queen's Jewels," by Leslie Field, is a fascinating volume that documents in photographs and text the extraordinary personal collection of Queen Elizabeth II of England. It shows the royal family as a surprisingly practical lot, with many members photographed wearing the same jewelry (Abrams).

"Portraits," by Helmut Newton, is shocking, though perhaps not to those familiar with his erotic photographs of the rich and the famous. As portraits do at their best, these reveal the personality of the subject, but often much more. Newton does to himself what he does to others -- there's a nude self-portrait taken during an electrocardiogram in the hospital (Pantheon Books).

Tick & Treat: Timely Art

Two artists whose works have stood the test of time -- Erte' and Jean Cocteau -- are among those whose designs are included in a new series of watches andclocks. Severin Wunderman, whose company manufactures Gucci timepieces and Fila sport watches, has commissioned a pocket watch by Erte' tocommemorate the artist's 95th birthday, and awristwatch, pendant, desk clock and table clock inspired by the art of Jean Cocteau, whose works Wunderman has collected for a long time. The watches are available at Bailey, Banks & Biddle in McLean.

Cape of Good Cheer

That friendly greeter at Garfinckel's is not just a spinoff of the store's Christmas spirit. The doorman's bright red cape may give way to another color when the seasons change, but the cheery assistance will remain seasonless. The navy, red and gold costume is the invention of Garfinckel's Vice President Greg Devaney. According to Devaney, the design started with the doormen's uniforms for Trump Tower in New York, but was augmented with lots of gold embellishment with scrolling and epaulets and trim.

Notes de la Mode

You can't find Kenzo designs at The Limited any more; the watered-down Kenzos were washed off the racks some months back. But no matter. The real thing, the Kenzo ready to wear with all the witty and wonderful combinations of fabrics and charming styles, is back at La Boutique Franc aise in Mazza Gallerie.

For the child who has everything: polka-dot retainers. No longer need you buy those pink plastic orthodontic devices kids love to lose -- Professional Positioners Inc., a national orthodontic laboratory, has come up with designer appliances called Pro-Pal that can be ordered in dots, stripes and animal prints in your choice of 16 colors. How about your school colors? Ask your orthodontist.

What were those Barney's executives -- brothers Gene and Bob Pressman and others -- discussing as they sipped Mouton Rothschild with their dinner in the Grill Room of the Occidental Restaurant last week? Could Barney's be bringing its men's or women's store (or both) to Washington? They wouldn't say.