By  on February 7, 2006

NEW YORK — There are many things Donatella Versace loves about America, but the no-smoking environment isn't one of them.

"It's very strange," Versace said, laughing while lighting one of her signature Marlboro Reds on the fourth floor of the company's Fifth Avenue flagship. "It's OK if you have a gun, but if you smoke, you are considered a murderer."

Smoking restrictions aside, New York is one of Versace's favorite cities. She typically comes here at least once a month, but usually keeps a low profile, checking out the newest Hollywood flicks in a multiplex theater, dining with her friends at hot new spots or old-time favorites like Indochine, Da Silvano or Mr. Chow, and spends as much time as possible doing what every other fashion girl would when in town — shopping.

"I adore New York," Versace said. "It's the city of the world. Through the clash of cultures, there is a lot of creativity. It's amazing. People think New York has its high and low times. For me, New York is happening at every moment. It happens everywhere — you just have to know where to look to find the avant-garde movie theaters, theaters and music. There is always something happening, and it always starts from here."

On this five-day trip, Versace is mixing business and pleasure. Tonight, she will host a party to celebrate the renovation of the company's New York flagship, followed by an intimate dinner at One Beacon Court.

Versace would like to take in some fashion shows, but on Sunday doubted she would have the time. "I would love to see everybody in New York, especially Marc Jacobs, because I adore him. He is a friend of mine."

She will, however, try and find time to see "Transamerica" and "Capote," and she plans to make a trip to the Museum of Natural History, where Versace is sponsoring the 2006 Winter Dance for the first time on Feb. 16, to meet with the gala's patrons Claire Bernard, Zani Gugelmann, Amanda Hearst, Tinsley Mortimer, Jacqueline Sackler and Ivanka .

Except for Trump, who was tied up otherwise, the patrons all flew to Milan last month to meet the designer, have fittings for the dresses they plan to wear to the dance, and glimpse the blonde's talents at Versace's men's wear show and after-party."This group of girls is amazing," she said. "They are not like what you think an aristocratic socialite should be. They are very modern."

While at the Museum of Natural History, she plans to take in some of the exhibits. "Normally, I would go for the dinosaurs, but I am looking to go to the planetarium. Anything modern appeals to me."

That could perhaps explain why she loves New York and the way American women dress.

"Many people think American women are not that fashionable, but it's the opposite," she said. "When American women are in fashion, they are very, very fashionable. They will have the right hair and the right makeup, which is impossible to find anywhere else in the world. There's always something...too much hair, too much makeup, too much everything."

She particularly likes the way the women here wear Versace. "They wear Versace in a more easy way," she said. "They learned faster than anywhere in the world that Versace has changed."

Versace, who sold her opulent town house on East 64th Street last summer, now stays at the grand, if not somewhat more conservative Waldorf Towers. "I go there for privacy," she said. "They have a great back entrance. I don't have to see the lobby. And I like space. The suite is enormous. I had a house here, so for me to go to a hotel now is difficult.

"I am looking for another apartment," Versace added. "Not a town house because it was too big, but I'd like to find something downtown. I have been uptown for so long. I need a change."

And she's clearly a close follower of American pop culture. Versace likes to get the newest DVDs of "Desperate Housewives" sent to her in Milan. "I am obsessed with ‘Desperate Housewives.' I love them," she said. "I love Bree because she is so perfect, that she is almost ridiculous. She is amazing. I like to watch in English, though, not dubbed in Italian."

The designer will be back in New York on her way to Los Angeles for the Oscars on March 5, which she plans to attend."I like the young, hot Hollywood stars," she said. "They are fabulous, and put fashion in the first place. I like Jessica Alba very much. She is gorgeous and sweet. She is everything a young star should be today. She is a great personality, great model and she wears the clothes fabulously." (Alba wore a Versace gown to the Golden Globes.)

As for the best actress nominees at the Oscars, Versace thinks Reese Witherspoon's performance in "Walk the Line" merits the actress her first Academy Award. When asked what she thought about Witherspoon mistakenly wearing a Chanel dress already worn by Kirsten Dunst to the Golden Globes, the designer said with a giggle, "Tell her [Witherspoon] she should come to me. She is so beautiful and such a nice person, that the dress doesn't count that much. It will count if it's Versace, of course."

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