WELCOME BACK CALVIN: For weeks, planners of several upcoming benefits have been dropping less-than-subtle hints that theirs would be the one where Calvin Klein, after ducking out of the fashion scene for several weeks since his high-profile Knicks gaffe, would mark his big industry return. Klein is said to be attending the American Image Awards on Monday night, where Phillips-Van Heusen chairman Bruce J. Klatsky is being honored, and the Sanctuary for Families’ Zero Tolerance spring benefit on Tuesday, sponsored by Elle and Calvin Klein Inc., even features Klein’s name prominently on its tip sheet.

Still, some didn’t expect he’d be appearing so publicly until the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards on June 2, where he is a co-host.

But the real winner at press time appeared to be — of all things — the Chrysler Giants of Design 2003 Awards, which was set for Thursday night at Cipriani 42nd Street. The designer was selected as an honoree at the event, presented by House Beautiful, prior to his recent public problems, so he wasn’t really expected to attend. Nevertheless, Klein was spotted back at his office Thursday afternoon, working on his acceptance speech.

THE LOWDOWN: Bernard Arnault has been sporting the stick-to-the-ribs tailoring of Dior Homme designer Hedi Slimane for quite some time — and with great flair, given his tall, slim frame. But the LVMH chairman confessed Thursday at the Christian Dior annual meeting that some of his “banker friends” are skeptical about the trendy makeover of Dior men’s wear. Arnault made the confession when asked about the success of Slimane’s line during the meeting. Arnault cited “strong growth” in the business, but added that men shouldn’t underestimate the practicality of styles like low-rise pants. “They’re very comfortable to wear, especially after a big lunch,” he said, prompting a round of belly laughs.

FANCY FOOTWORK: Patrick Cox may be best known for steep stilettos, but the shoe designer may soon have to invest in high-performance running shoes. In Paris Wednesday for the launch of his first collection for Charles Jordan, Cox confessed he now oversees almost two dozen collections a year for the French brand, not to mention his signature lines, meaning he needs to be fast on his feet. “I went from New York to Japan to Italy to Paris with a stop in London for a day to let my friends know I still exist,” he bemoaned under flashing disco lights at the launch party.

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