NEW YORK -- Who's afraid of Giorgio Armani? Bring on the Europeans.

That sums up the suprising reaction of many SA designers to the growing number of Italians who say they are thinking about staging shows in New York.

Although a European invasion of any magnitude is not likely to occur next month -- relatively few spots remain open for the 7th on Sixth tent shows in Bryant Park, for one thing, and only a handful of formal inquiries from abroad have been made -- the interest in New York has been intensifying.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America, responsible for the tent shows, says that so far it has received inquiries about showing here in April from Giorgio Armani (who probably won't show here this season due to the constraints of time, according to the CFDA's Fern Mallis) and Gianni Versace. Dolce & Gabbana has expressed an interest, but made no formal overtures.

The one Italian house that has made a firm commitment is Prada. The CFDA is now looking for a slot to accommodate the company during 7th on Sixth.

The sudden interest by the Italians is only one part of a new European fascination with New York. Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix, Helmut Lang, Jean Paul Gaultier and Franco Moschino have been making frequent trips in and out of Manhattan. Thierry Mugler relocated his headquarters here from Paris. Other European houses -- Ghost and Liza Bruce, for example -- have been showing their collections here during the New York runway shows.

Although Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren declined comment about the possibility of showing cheek by jowl with their European counterparts, others were less reticent.

"I think it's great," said Richard Tyler. "With the tents last year, and now someone like Giorgio Armani thinking of showing here, the prestige it adds to New York is great.

"The European press will pay much more attention to the shows, and with someone like Giorgio Armani or Versace, it will be brilliant," said Tyler, adding that he doesn't think Armani's participation would take anything away from the American designers.

"The buyers come here to buy, and we're here to show," he said. "They've already bought Armani in Italy. Of course he'll get a lot of press, but I still think it's great for us. The American press will focus on him, and the European press will come over and focus on us. I think it will be fun."

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