Christian Francis Roth is the latest enfant terrible of fashion.

He's causing a lot of commotion with his cute, $1,000-a-pop "crayon dresses." The press loves them. The Crayola people hate them.

"They panicked around May," said the 21-year-old designer on a recent visit to Washington. "They said, 'You can't ship these clothes.' I said, 'I can go out of business because of this. And if I go out of business, and Crayola boycotts the youngest designer in America, and doesn't let him express himself in this totally abstract way, well... .'

"Plus, I didn't write 'Crayola' anywhere."

The fuss is over a squiggly line on the sleeve that is just like the one on Crayola crayon wrappers, which is a Crayola trademark. After negotiations, the company said it wants 7 percent of Roth's profits. He said, "I don't have the money." That's where it stands.

Meanwhile, the pop-art-like crayon dresses are selling by the boxfuls and some critics are hailing Roth as the next hip, '60s-influenced designer.

"You know, it doesn't bring back an era for me," he said. He was sitting on the sofa at Harriet Kassman's, dressed in one of his lime-green smock tops, torn blue jeans, white espadrilles and no socks. "Some people say, 'Oh, your clothes are '60s-inspired.' You know, their brain's not working. It's like, 'Honey, I was born in 1969.' "

Glad that's settled.

Roth sees himself as a middle-of-the-road designer. "I'm sort of in between couture and ready-to-wear," he explained. "The sewing quality and the technique is a couture approach, but although I don't really mass produce, I also don't do made-to-order."

He received his classic couture training (the craft of constructing a garment on a mannequin rather than from sketches) as an apprentice to master couturier Koos van den Akker. Roth spent some time at both the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design to learn the business end of fashion. Two years ago, he presented a small collection in van den Akker's showroom. Since then, he's been filling Bergdorf Goodman's windows and pages of fashion magazines with crayon dresses and M&M jackets. Next season, he's making abstract "jigsaw dresses" that will have curving interlocking seams, like puzzle pieces. "There's not one dart. Not one straight seam," he explained, waving his finger around like a magic wand, showing the curves in the air. And after that? Will he grow up and stop playing with crayons?

"No. I don't really want to grow up. I think it will help my creativity to stay young in my thinking," he said. "Although, sometimes, I feel like Tom Hanks in 'Big.' Like it's going to end -- not my career -- but the fact that I get away with what I get away with, and it'll all have to come down to becoming serious. But who knows. I hope not."

Black in Vogue

To wear black or not to wear black, that is the question at Vogue. For the last few months, Editor in Chief Anna Wintour has been pushing color on the readers of Vogue, but last week New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams reported that Wintour issued an in-house edict: No employees shall wear black to work.

"It's completely not true," says Vogue spokesman Suzanne Eagle. "We must receive 17 calls a day on that. She has not said that her editors cannot wear black in the office. However, she is a supporter of color this season. In the September issue she showed her commitment to color."

Well, her editors are obviously not as committed. At the recent Hispanic Designers Gala at the Grand Hyatt, everyone at the Vogue table was dressed in black, including the evening's fashion-reporting award winner, Fashion Director Candy Pratts-Price.

Wintour even seems to be waffling a bit on her dedication to the color diet.

"In fact," says Eagle, "she was spotted wearing a black dress in the office just the other day."

Flair, at a Fair PriceCathy Hardwick is back in business.

The veteran sportswear designer folded a year ago when her backer "decided to retire and phase out," she says. "So I took some time out and went on a vacation."

Good thing she rested up. She's now putting together a lower-priced collection for Sears, "well-designed, well-made clothes that have a fair amount of fashion flair to them," as she describes them, including T-shirts, Lycra miniskirts and a swing coat or two.

"Of course," says Sears spokesman John Summers, "the prices are in sharp contrast to her designs in better stores." T-shirts cost $22 and the highest priced item is the swing coat at $64.

But don't worry. Hardwick isn't just making "watered-down designs" for Sears. She plans to resurrect her higher-priced line and show in New York as soon as this spring.