NO ONE EVER SAID ELEGANCE HAD TO BE DULL. Certainly not Christian Lacroix, the toast of the Paris couture, whose short-cropped jewel-like evening suit graces the cover. And certainly not the top American and European designers whose fall confections fill the following 24 pages.

It's true that the designers have slashed away at hemlines and carved out jackets that curve where shapely bodies do. But the results look anything but skimpy. There's a real polish here, a richness of fabric and detail that add up to elegance with a sexy, modern edge.

The main style messages of fall, set against monumental Washington, appear at right and on the next six pages. The season's wild style -- jolts of color and all those animal prints -- starts on page 38. Luxurious re-embroidered lace -- evening dresses of heirloom quality, photographed in romantic Mexico -- turn up on page 44. Then we travel to Europe for glimpses of Lacroix's first fiery season in his own couture house (page 49), and for Paris styles (page 50) that are already on their way to American stores.

In all, these are the very best looks for fall. Now it's your turn: to dream, perchance to buy. ::