The "couture contrast" between Raisa Gorbachev and her predecessor of a quarter century ago, Mrs. Nikita Khrushchev, is obvious. But recounting a long-forgotten visit to a Washington area drycleaning plant may partially explain the fashion change.

Many things were obviously different 28 years ago, when President Eisenhower (also in the remaining months of his second term) was to meet with the Russian premier here. After landing at Andrews AFB, the Russian was paraded into town in an open car, unthinkable in 1987. And when their husbands "went to camp" for discussions in September 1959, the wives stayed home.

While high-level talks were going on (it wasn't termed a "summit"), I wondered what Mrs. Khrushchev would be doing. My question arose because of "creative linkage." For I was then working for the National Institute of Drycleaning, representing 10,000-plus drycleaners who provided a needed but taken-for-granted service.

I wanted her to tour the institute's model drycleaning plant. An odd thought you might say, considering there are so many other attractions to visit. But it was prompted by the simple fact that journalist friends and State Department contacts frequently lamented that one of the everyday American "luxuries" they missed was the simple ability to send clothes to the cleaners. Russia had laundries but no cleaners, yet there were thousands here in the United States. To get precious fabrics truly cleaned some used the diplomatic pouch to have them processed in Scandinavia or Western Europe, an expensive inconvenience.

My calls, letters and visits worked. The "creative linkage" was joined one bright Saturday in late September 1959 when Mrs. Khrushchev turned a visit to the cleaners into a media event while her husband was 40 miles north at Camp David. The Institute cleaners was then located (as it had been since late '20s) on Georgia Avenue at East-West Highway in Silver Spring. The National Institute for Drycleaning was a mecca for the cleaning industry, but never before -- or since -- had been the object of such heavy national attention.

Her official hostess, Mrs. Henry Cabot Lodge, was most gracious, and Mrs. Khrushchev (no one then used first names, such as Raisa) was smilingly impassive as our National Institute of Drycleaning officials explained the so-called miracle of "dryclean." Before her departure, our general manager, George Fulton, presented an autographed copy of our "best seller" -- a two-foot-thick book of fabric swatches with relevant cleaning information, plus a collection of our exciting technical bulletins, each neatly punched for her handy bedside reference in three-ring binders.

In less than an hour the horde of Secret Service and KGB agents plus State Department hosts and media reporters and cameramen (then all males) zoomed back downtown to Washington, but the after-effects were both short- and long-lasting.

Next morning we found dozens of windows in the plant had been broken by dissidents who used the handy B&O roadbed rocks as weapons . . . but we got good coverage in the news pages, made the front page of the Sunday New York Times and got footage on the "Today" show, etc. -- something unheard of in normal drycleaning coverage. Our members felt justly patriotic in being able to show off what is largely taken for granted to someone in a country that doesn't enjoy that service.

A few months later one of our industry consultants was asked to visit Russia to lay out some plants, and now I understand that diplomatic pouches can be used for what they are intended.

The cleaning plant itself was bought in the mid-70s by Metro for maintenance operations, and the National Institute of Drycleaning changed its name to the International Fabricare Institute and moved farther out on Route 29.

Whether we'll be able to introduce "going to the fabricarist" into Russia is a job for someone else.

-- John Jay Daly is a communications consultant.