The brilliant red stage with sweeping ramp is the first clue that art director Eiko Ishioka created the set and costumes for "M. Butterfly," now at the National Theatre and soon to go to Broadway.

Eiko, as she is known, is partial to this color, which is often referred to as "Eiko's red." When she used it throughout her book, "Eiko by Eiko," she couldn't find the right red ink, so she mixed poster color with fabric dye to get just the right shade.

"Red for me suggests something dangerous, very violent. Red belongs to the Orient and can be very elegant and very intellectual and, therefore, difficult to use for sets and costumes," she says. "Red is the most strong color. People can see it so easily." Once all mailboxes in Japan had to be red.

Eiko's symbolic and stylized set makes "M. Butterfly" -- with all its diverse elements -- work. "A set should be like wallpaper, very modest, without appearing too much against the actors," says Eiko. "My sets have strong character to collaborate with acting. I wanted to create a stimulating set ... and this is one reason why I wanted to use red."

Eiko was first recognized for her daring ads for Sheisedo, the prestige Japanese cosmetic company that catapulted her career, just after college at the Tokyo University of Fine Art, as the first woman graphic designer of note in Japan. She went on to create a highly touted ad campaign for the Parco stores in Tokyo and a memorable poster for "Apocalypse Now" and to win a Cannes Film Festival Award as art director for "Mishima."

Like her good friend fashion designer Issey Miyake, who steers clear of theater design, Eiko found it difficult to give in totally to the director or producer. "I must often tell myself to be patient."

For "M. Butterfly," Eiko wanted costumes that would be strong, like the embroidered yellow kimono worn by the Chinese diva that contrasts dramatically with the rather minimalist set. She studied kimonos and hired a kabuki expert to assist her. There was no time to have them handmade as she wanted, but what she accomplished in two months is very effective.

Even though she has moved into costume and set design, Eiko is still art director. "I don't want to give up anything. I want to be free, to involve myself in any area, if I'm interested." Coming up are designs for tableware and furniture and an assignment on a new Philip Glass opera. But not clothes. "When you have a genius friend like Issey Miyake, you don't need to become a designer."

Notes de la Mode

And we would have been perfectly happy if Sports Illustrated had skipped its swimsuit issue. The bathing suits chosen were only the most revealing swim wear around -- often more like lingerie. That borders on porn in our view, not fashion.

What's a Tribout? It's a Woodies designer boutique. The boutiques are officially being launched Tuesday with a fashion show by Sueanne Clark of Vogue magazine. The name Tribout, borrowed from the prestige three-in-one boutique of Woodies sister store John Wanamaker in Philadelphia, was chosen to suggest "trois boutiques."

Soar Feet for Sore Losers Theworthiest footwear promotion we've seen in eons came across our desk this week from Johnston & Murphy. Prompted by the movie "Wall Street" and Black Monday, the prestige shoe manufacturers have sent a picture of the Wall Street broker look -- shoes mostly, perched on a ledge. "Panicked brokers take wing," the message offers. "When the blue chips are down and you're out on a ledge, you need to be wearing the appropriate footwear. Why not wing tips?" We all need some humor in our fashion lives, particularly these days ...

Other tips for for winging it on Wall Street: the power tie -- the Quotron tie that reverses from red to black with the Dow; the power pattern -- paisley; the power hair -- slicked back (that is, if there is any left on the head of a veteran broker; that's the most coveted sign of power); the power pants -- pleated and cuffed to catch C-notes that could fall from a broker's shallow pockets.

Calvin Klein's

Spring Fancy

Store Wars: Nordstrom will bring Calvin Klein back to town for a supergala fashion event at the Pension Building this spring. The last time Klein was here he spent $50,000 on a Hermes saddle for his wife Kelly. The place inspires him. For more details, stay tuned.

Not What Fergie

Was Expecting ...

The duchess of York has never felt confined to wearing just British designers, though certainly one of her pets is London designer Alistair Blair -- remember him, the young Scot who was Karl Lagerfeld's assistant? She has no reluctance about wearing designs of Yves Saint Laurent. And Women's Wear Daily was not surprised to discover that Fergie sent for Jean-Paul Gaultier's cheaper line to check it out as possible maternity garb. But it's anything but apparel for the pregnant, and once she had seen it, according to the fashion daily, she returned it pronto.

Changes That Suit

The Working Woman

There never were a real Alcott & Andrews, so we aren't sorry that ad campaign has been put to rest. The chain has come up with a changed goal -- "clothing the woman" rather than dressing for success -- with a nifty campaign photographed in black and white by Herb Ritts with model Tatjana Patitz. She's wearing lots of worthy, becoming and hopefully affordable clothes and accessories. And good riddance to the boring, safe, uniform look of old.

Also revealing a zippier new look is Talbots -- witness its latest catalogue. We doubt any one person is responsible, but we'll put our money on Talbots president of recent vintage, Sally Frame, who attended American University, trained at Lord & Taylor locally, became a buyer at Garfinckels and then president of Ann Taylor before going to Talbots. It's all those solid Washington connections working in her favor.