Mermaids. Sirens of the sea. These enchanting, radiant seawomen seem to have captured our imagination. Little girls dream of becoming one. Men dream of finding one.

Lately, though, there's been a glut of mermaids. Disney's Ariel, the Little Mermaid, won the hearts of children, adults and even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awarded the feature with two Oscars (for Best Song and Best Score) last spring. Cher is starring in a film titled "Mermaids," which is scheduled to open this fall. Madonna, being Madonna, switched the roles, and surrounded herself with mermen flopping on the beach in her Herb Ritts-directed video, "Cherish." And at the famed Wellesley commencement speech in June, Barbara Bush spoke of mermaids.

These lovely creatures have also found their way into fashion. Several designers, including Issac Mizrahi and Bob Mackie, are showing long, shimmering, "Sea-Nymph" gowns for fall. Some, like 32-year-old New York designer C.D. Greene, have decorated dresses with overlapping paillettes in dreamy shades of turquoise, emerald and gold. Others, such as Calvin Klein, have wrapped the body so tightly with fabric that the torso and legs resemble one long fish tail.

California-based designers Nina K. and David Cline are using the image of the mermaid -- actually, Nina K. dressed in a scaly get-up from Western Costumes in Los Angeles -- for their fall advertising campaign.

"This year's focus is on environmental issues," says Cline. "Some designers are using natural fibers and earth tones. I came up with the idea of a mermaid, because it would reflect the freshness of the sea without the pollution."

Plus, he says, "everybody wants to be in love with a mermaid. It's very romantic ... to be swimming in the sea and see a mermaid come up. I just came back from Cancun and there was a mermaid swimming around there. I saw her."