OUR EYE was caught by an article on French fashions in the Outlook section on Sunday, appropriately subtitled "Couturiers' Profits Come From Names, Not Gowns." The burden of the story was that some of the great old Parisian fashion houses had taken to merchandising their labels, as distinct from merchandising the kind of elegant clothes that had made their labels famous in the first place. Rugs, eyeglasses, chocolates -- is there anything a big-name fashion house sooner or later won't lend its name to? "Saint-Laurent," the article explains, "recently drew the line at putting its label on automobile tires."

We bring this up not to lament the passing of a great old product no one could afford anyway, but rather to take note of the internationalization of a trend that has been gaining strength in this country. It is a trend that could, in fairly short order, cause the term GNP to be reinterpreted as the Gross Nothing Product. Consider the evidence:

A news story the other day revealing that two Georgia congressmen had been paid $900 apiece for coming to lunch at a Macon tobacco plant, taking a tour of the facility and having a discussion with some of its executives.

A mid-November breakthrough on the part of George Plimpton, famous Paper Everything, who was paid $2,000 to attend a Washington cocktail party. It was, Mr. Plimpton told a reporter, the first time he'd ever been paid just for turning up.

World last fall from the California trendsetters, via a Los Angeles Times piece, that at that cutting edge of the social and economic revolution, at least one company now hires out provocative "guests" to be "conversation catalysts" -- a man and a woman, for instance, who might stage a phony husband-wife quarrel that would get the other guests talking excitedly among themselves, and all for only $125.

It's a steal. And you may take that however you wish. It just seems to us that in a time when you are hearing ever more about make-work jobs and bureaucratic paper-flurries and generally subsidized and/or bought-and-sold blather, it is only fitting that the hottest new commodity around should be, basically, nothing: somebody's perceived physical presence or somebody's name (but not signed to the bottom line of a check). Everything costs money nowadays, including and especially, it seems, those things that used to be free and should be free and for which, at zero cost, the price is right. The next time you're having a horrendous fight with your spouse, consider taking the show on the road. Don't ask your would-be hostess: What time? Ask her: How much? Life, when you think about it, is just one series of unrewarded testimonials. Our only reservation about proclaiming this a new trend is that P.T. Barnum knew all about it.