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Next Season's Greetings

Make spring come early: Amid the Christmas blitz, did anyone notice the fall-collections closeouts? A Saks buyer finds keepers on the sale racks.

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As the gift-shopping season hits full throttle, take a moment to think about what you want. Designers' fall collections are now on sale, and it's worth snagging a few key spring pieces. Forget what you wanted in September -- now you need things that won't be fashion history by the turn of the century (i.e., pony-skin skirts). To separate what works from what doesn't, Saks Fifth Avenue's fashion director, Dianne Cisneros, gave us a tactical lesson.

Leading us to the second floor, where big-ticket items are now 40 percent off (always browse high-end), Cisneros rattles off what we'll be looking for this spring. "Denim is major. Plus, bold color, leather, ruffles, and what I call 'charm school' -- those sweet, innocent, ladylike pieces." At Gucci, she finds an A-list jeans jacket in a muted red ($267). "Color's the most current way to wear it," she confides. Next, she passes over Dolce & Gabbana's "fall-ish" patterns and focuses in on their bold turquoise and pink florals (pictured) -- "Too springy for fall but fresh and exciting going forward." A pair of zebra-print pants ($333) remind her of "what Michael Kors did." At Marc Jacobs, she points to a perennially coveted thermal-knit cashmere sweater ($510). "Seasonless -- I live for it," she gushes. Last, she suggests a trench "any way you want it -- sleek, feminine, even in python." She models a red, belted version at Yves Saint Laurent ($1,005, also in khaki). "It's not just for the rain," she explains. "You'll wear it over a cocktail dress, to work -- everywhere."

Inspired to find stuff that costs a bit less, we head up to the fifth floor (where markdowns occur through December). A bit of digging uncovers a pink suede A-line skirt with inverted seams from Illia ($286). "We're seeing so much leather and suede," says Cisneros. "In beige, suntan, and in all colors." For evening, we pick out Girlfriend's graphic printed sundress ($205, pictured) -- much fresher than those Liberty prints in our closet.

Footwear's the best deal of all: Any of those dainty open shoes that currently scream frostbite will feel great come summer -- and practically no one will know you got them out of season. "Sequins and crystal go particularly well into spring," Cisneros notes.

Picks of the Week

Diane von Furstenberg's sample sale has lots of sultry, colorful party-season dresses (pictured), tops, skirts, and sweaters for 40 to 60 percent off, from $20 to $150. Sizes 2-14. 389 W. 12th St. (212-753-1111); cash only: Thurs.-Fri. 9-7, Sat. 10-6; 12/9-12/11.

Fashion Rescue, the UJA's social-service fund-raiser, has designer clothes for all ages at 50 to 75 percent off (including Polo Ralph Lauren, Nautica, and Tommy Hilfiger). Admission is $10 the first day, $6 thereafter. Expo Center, Madison Square Garden, Seventh Ave. at 32nd St. (for tickets, call 212-465-6741); A.E., M.C., V.; Sun. 10-7:30, Mon.-Thurs. 10-10, Fri. 8-3, Sat. 6:30-10; 12/12-12/19.

Jill Platner's sleek handmade silver jewelry (most of it on black woven cords) is sold at stores like Bergdorf Goodman. At the sample sale, most prices are about half off, from $25 for stud earrings to $500 for a heavy choker. 113 Crosby St. (212-941-1892); checks accepted; daily noon-7; 12/12-12/19.

Showroom Seven has fall and holiday styles from Amaya, Beverly Mehl, Ghost, Kitty Boots, and Petro Zillia (plus crystal jewelry from Erickson Beamon) for 50-75 percent off, from $15 for a Kitty Boots lip-print sweatshirt to $500 for a Ghost coat. 498 Seventh Ave., near 36th St., twenty-fourth floor (212-643-4810); A.E., M.C., V.; Mon.-Sat. 10-7; 12/7-12/17.

Erik Stewart's trendy sweaters are always a good deal. At the sample sale, they're half off: Cottons are from $20-$60, synthetics are about $50, cashmeres are $50-100. Sportswear is $40-$90. Sizes S-XL. 1441 Broadway, near 40th St., 34th floor (212-944-9096); M.C., V.; Mon.-Fri. 9-5; 12/6-12/10.

MU/H's rich brocade and embroidered home accessories are at stores like Bergdorf Goodman and ABC Carpet & Home. Here, they're 65 percent off: Pillows and table linens are $10-$150, curtain panels are $125, tree skirts are $200, bedding sets are $1,000. 121 E. 24th St., Suite 4R (212-228-7779); A.E., M.C., V.; Wed.-Fri. 9-7, Sat.- Sun. noon-6; 12/8-12/12.

Buddhaful Things's colorful pashminas are a very good value (and are woven by Tibetan exiles living in Nepal, if that moves you). Large shawls are $145; stoles are $120; scarves are $90. Gift boxes are free. 704 Broadway, near Bleecker St., first floor (for information, call 212-579-0670); cash only; Sat. 10-6, Sun. 11-3; 12/11- 12/12.

ABH Design, Inc. has very high-end home and fashion accessories (pictured) for half what you'd pay in stores, like mink-cuffed cashmere gloves ($125), brocade bags ($85-$150), rabbit stoles ($795), and embellished pashminas ($125-$600). 153 E. 61st St., third floor (212-688-3764); M.C., V., checks; Mon.-Fri. 10-6:30; 12/6-12/31.

RTR Packaging's sale is great for loading up on stylish gift boxes and bags in every imaginable size at wholesale prices (from 50 cents to $20). Hefty 25-foot rolls of holiday gift wrap are $14. 27 W. 20th St., Suite 606 (212-620-0011); cash only; Mon.-Fri. 10-4, Sat. noon-5, Sun. 1-5; 12/6-12/24.

Susan Unger's studio sale offers lush velvet and silk evening clothes at half price. Opera coats and gowns are $350, scarves are $50-$150. Sizes 6-18. 208 W. 29th St., Suite 309 (212-736-8249); A.E., M.C., V.; Mon.-Fri. 3-7:30; 12/6-12/10.

The Art Students League's December sale is a way to support amateur painters and sculptors and pick up some of their work at surprisingly affordable prices (from $50 to $800 -- but there's a lot under $200). 215 W. 57th St. (212-247-4510); checks accepted; Mon.-Fri. 9-8:30, Sat. 10-3, Sun. 1-4; 12/10-12/29.

Vivienne Westwood's first U.S. sample sale has groovy, sexy clothes (pictured) for 70 percent off: a T-shirt is $30, a plaid skirt is $150, a shearling jacket is $900. Ladies' sizes 4-8, men's 38-42. 71 Greene St., basement (212-334-1500); A.E., M.C., V.; Sat.-Sun. noon-5; 12/11- 12/12.


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