Most of us see a pack of M & M's and think candy. Christian Francis Roth sees it and thinks fashion.

From the appliqués and buttons patterned after M & M's that adorn his orange box-cut jacket to the cigarette-smoking lapel that distinguishes his evening blazer, Roth's creations have what the designer likes to call an oddball elegance.

"People should be having fun with what they wear," says Roth, 20. "What's the use of having a wardrobe that's plain?" That philosophy has won him such formidable fans as Geoffrey Beene and gained him displays in Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus. "He's very daring, audacious and provocative," says Lynn Manulis, president of New York City's ritzy Martha boutique. "Young women look at his things, giggle, then buy."

Roth's own fancy-dressing flair goes back to his teenage years in Manhattan, when he spent his evenings huddled over fashion magazines, not geometry texts. At 17, he became an apprentice to Dutch designer Koos van den Akker, finishing high school at night. Last year, with van den Akker's help, he launched his own collection—inspired by everything from Monty Python movies and Charles Addams cartoons to New York City's Seagram Building. "Nobody really thought I could do it," Roth remembers, "but by the end of that season, I had sold everything."

Now his third collection (his pants, camisoles and jackets are priced from $200 to $1,050) is in stores, and Roth is busy designing a spring collection. Among his ideas: a "sunburn" dress with strap marks sewn into the shoulders.