FRONT-ROW FLASH: Among the regular crowd of Michael Kors devotees like Aerin Lauder, Lauren duPont and CeCe Cord, a fresh face graced his front row — that of actress Elsa Pataky. The Barcelona native is in town for her first New York Fashion Week and couldn't be more thrilled. "I am so excited," she beamed. "I love Michael Kors." She recently tried to borrow a dress from the designer for the Goya Awards (the Spanish equivalent to the Oscars), but wasn't able to get one and, ultimately, donned a Nina Ricci gown. "It's very difficult to get dresses in Spain," she explained, even though she is a friend of the Kors house. "But I went backstage and said hello to Michael, so now I know that next time it will work out." Pataky, who will be seen in the upcoming Samuel L. Jackson movie "Snakes on a Plane," also plans to attend the Custo Barcelona show. "I have to go — it's where I am from. I couldn't go to an American show and not go to the Spanish one," she laughed. "Even if Michael Kors is very well known in Spain."

Another face appeared for the first time at a New York show: Debra Messing. The flame-haired actress was never able to travel East before due to the shooting schedule of "Will & Grace," but this season jumped on a red-eye to make the Michael Kors show along with husband Daniel Zelman. "It's so much bigger than I thought it would be," she said, "There are so many more people." Up next for the actress are two films, "Purple Violets," directed by Ed Burns, and "Lucky You," out in April.

COMEBACK TRAIL: Balmain, the Paris fashion house, is again trying to kick start its business with a new designer. Christophe Ducarnin, formerly with Paco Rabanne, has joined the house and will present his first collection in a runway show scheduled for Feb. 26 during Paris Fashion Week. A Balmain spokesman refused to comment, but the house soon is expected to issue a statement confirming Ducarnin's arrival. The last few years have been choppy for Balmain as it filed for bankruptcy protection and chewed through designers, including Christophe Lebourg and Laurent Mercier.HIGH TIMES: Colette, the hip and upscale Paris boutique, is taking the high-street route and opening a Topshop corner later this month in tandem with a British-themed exhibition. On offer will be fashion-savvy staples that drive British kids wild, including skinny jeans and an exclusive T-shirt line for Colette. "It's a nice way to enter a market," said Jane Shepherdson, brand director for Topshop, who confirmed the brand is planning to open a permanent Parisian store within the next 18 months, followed by stores in two other European cities and in New York. "We want to give to other cities what our Oxford Street store gives to London," she added.

THAT GIRL: The sports world has streakers and the fashion industry has, well, sneakers. The season's sprightly culprit has the stealth of a seasoned professional and is anything but obvious, wearing a rhinestone tiara in the front row of shows such as Badgley Mischka, Diane von Furstenberg, Nanette Lepore (beside Fran Drescher), Luca Luca and Chaiken. She said her name is SoYoun Shim and that she is a fashion design student and fledgling designer. "I love this," said Shim of the shows. She said she was legitimately invited by friends to some shows, but also has gotten past tough public relations firms such as KCD and PR Consulting. "Sometimes, I get standing room [and come to the front row]. Other times, I sneak in." But sometimes that "you should know who I am look" doesn't work. At the Marc Jacobs' show, Shim was ousted to the still-prestigious second row for "Saturday Night Live" star Amy Poehler.

PRADA BREAK: Katie Couric and the "Today" show team swept into Milan Wednesday, capping off a three-day Italian tour before heading on to Turin for NBC's Olympic coverage. In between live broadcasts from Milan's Piazza Duomo and the glassed shopping arcade known as the Galleria, where the program staged a mini spring fashion show, the petite anchor slipped into the Prada store to keep warm and check out the merchandise. "I'm trying to get a little shopping in," she said postshow, "but we've been moving from place to place and it's been difficult." Couric, who honeymooned in Rome and Florence, had never been to Milan before the broadcast. "Milan, so far, has been my favorite place in terms of people," she said. The climate, however, could have been more amiable. Before the show wrapped, Couric changed out of her pink floral Dolce & Gabbana coat and into a warmer down number.THE HEATHERETTE MIX: Singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright was one of the lucky ones seated front row at the Heatherette show Tuesday night. Not even Pat Field scored Row One status. "I'm a friend of the creators," Wainwright said of Heatherette designers Richie Rich and Traver Rains. "Can't you tell? I'm wearing a silver jacket with a sparkly brooch." Seated to his left were the beauty guy from "Queer Eye," Kyan Douglas, and culture maven, Jai Rodriguez, who was wearing a barely zipped-up hoodie and tie, sans shirt. "This is the biggest show of fashion week," Rodriguez said as he excitedly bobbed up and down in his seat, gawking at the likes of club queen Suzanne Bartsch, and rocker legend Debbie Harry, seated nearby.

CUSTOM-MADE: Why wait four weeks to have a Goyard bag monogrammed? Jack Spade has taken the matter into its own hands. The firm will be setting up shop for the new Jack Spade Canal Street collection outside of the tents at Bryant Park today at 5-7 p.m. and Thursday at 7-8 p.m. Employees of the company will hand-paint plaid plastic totes from Chinatown with people's initials. Quite the designer knockoff.

PRIZE RING: Mia & Kompany and Stila have teamed up to create three styles of pavé diamond right-hand rings for the 10 best actress and best supporting actress nominees. But not all rings were created equal — the best actress nominees receive a $2,400 charm cluster bauble, the supporting bunch, an $800 single-star version. And only one lucky lady (whoever is quickest on the draw) gets to wear the $80,000 bling, which contains a tiny pot of lip color and a mirror (that piece will be auctioned off for her charity of choice).

FREE RIDE: Payless ShoeSource is moving up in the fashion ranks. It is partnering with designer Laura Poretzky on footwear for her Abaeté collection, to bow on the runway today, and it's also trying to get on editors' and retailers' good sides. On Sunday the firm kicked off a project called StyleRide — in which a fleet of six black Toyota Prius cars, emblazoned with both companies' logos and playing the music from the Abaeté show, chauffeured editors and retailers from the tents at Bryant Park to off-site shows or any location in Manhattan. Women dressed in Abaeté white coats and Payless boots and accessories are directing people to the environmentally sound cars, which are located at 41st Street and Sixth Avenue.THE BRITISH ARE COMING: Seating was cramped and the foot-tapping elevator wait made Margaret Hayes and others head for the door before reaching Yeohlee's showroom, but the Met's Harold Koda said the 16th-floor space was just the place to unveil her collection. "I think this is the ideal kind of space for Yeohlee. One of the things that has been a challenge for people in the past was to see the beauty of the concepts. All her clothes have to be based on some sort of pragmatic requirement. One of the things she does is challenge herself in terms of technique," he said. (This time around, the late architect Giuseppe Terragni provided some of the inspiration.)

Koda has been busy crafting narratives of his own. "AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion" bows at the Met in May, and a huge arrival of pieces for that show Wednesday kept contemporary curator Patrick Kinmonth from catching Yeohlee's show. The exhibition will house avant-garde British fashion and vintage Costume Institute items. The trick for Kinmonth will be to anchor them in some of the museum's period rooms, Koda said.

BELL BOY: Fashion week got a nod from the financial community on Tuesday when the Council of Fashion Designers of America was chosen to officially close the Nasdaq stock market. Designers Thom Browne, Reem Acra, Jeffrey Banks and Mary Ann Restivo, as well as CFDA's executive director, Steven Kolb, came to watch CFDA president Stan Herman push the orange button to ring the closing bell at Nasdaq's Times Square headquarters. "It's so high tech," Herman said. "You push the button, then sign your name and it immediately appears over the [seven-story] Jumbotron on Times Square. It was a nice tribute to business and fashion. They are recognizing the fact that this city is now one of the major fashion headquarters and that, of course, makes me excited."

ONCE IS NEVER ENOUGH: Last season Zac Posen partnered with Austrian hosiery firm Wolford on a pair of $500 bedazzled limited-edition tights, but ever the deal maker, Posen didn't stop there. Tonight's runway show will mark the debut of a complete collection called Zac Posen for Wolford. The line includes toeless lace tights, sheers with garter detail and a skintight printed dress in shades of squid-ink blue, ox blood and basic black. "I am very pleased that the no-hose look has gone away," said Holger Dahmen, chief executive officer in New York for the collections. "We consider Zac to be one of the top starts in the next couple of years. He's on the verge internationally." The collection of about 10 styles of legwear and bodywear will be in Wolford stores and Posen retail stores in July.VREELAND LIVES: Many in the tents wish they could channel the late Diana Vreeland, but Illeana Douglas actually did. The actress plays the famed fashion editor in "Factory Girl," a film about Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick that just wrapped in Shreveport, La. To prepare for "the part of a lifetime," Douglas said she read and reread Vreeland's autobiography "D.V."; quizzed Vreeland's friends, Sam Green and Lauren Hutton, and listened to an audio tape of Vreeland offering a self-guided tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Douglas was so enthralled by the role that she carries two snapshots of herself dressed as Vreeland in an embroidered dirndl skirt. Leafing through her wallet for them after the Carlos Miele show Wednesday, she laughed, "Look at me. I'm such a tourist."

Douglas used plenty of Vreeland's favorite sayings in the movie, which also stars Sienna Miller, Guy Pearce and Jimmy Fallon. "She had such a patriarchal voice," Douglas said. "She said things like, 'Red is the great clarifier,'" and lamented about her lifelong search for the perfect shade of red: "I want a rococo with a spot of Gothic in it and give me a bit of Buddhist temple."

One of Douglas' favorites was, "My son said to me, 'Mother, that can't be true. Is it fact or fiction?' and I said, 'I like to call it faction.'"

Douglas, who stars in the new ABC show "Crumbs" with Jane Curtin, William Devane and Fred Savage, was a bit taken aback by the barrage of reporters' preshow questions. "They ask things like, 'What's the healthiest thing in your refrigerator?' 'What's in your closet right now that's under $20?'" she laughed. "I didn't learn these things in acting school."

MIAMI VICE: Vanessa Williams has seen her share of South Beach, thanks to her role in the new program by the same name. But the singer and actress was back where she belongs in time for Carmen Marc Valvo's show Wednesday. South Beach's fashion scene is "a little flashy, comfortable, baring and very youth-driven." she said. "For us over-40 gals, it's about getting a great pair of jeans, a slinky top with good support and high heels."

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