Role Reversal

updated 11/13/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/13/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

FORGET CROPPED TOPS AND EYE-POPPING patterns; the real fashion statements at New York City's spring shows were the mannequins. "When I saw the movie Clueless, I realized young actresses are really hot," says designer Nicole Miller, known for her body-skimming creations. Gambling on that startling notion, she passed on superstar strutters like Naomi and Kate and their $10,000 fees in favor of a string of fresh-faced—and no doubt lower-priced—thespians, including Law & Order's Jill Hennessy, Circle of Friends' Minnie Driver and Beverly Hills, 90210's Rebecca Gayheart. "These actresses are sexy, lovely girls," said Miller, "who add a whole new dimension to the clothes."

Some might call it a beguiling freshness; others would label it stage fright. "It's scary," said Gayheart, as a stylist spiffed up her hair. "I'm used to having a script to focus on. Here it's all in how you walk and wear the clothes."

"I am a wee bit nervous," said Hennessy. "My eyesight's not very good, and I fear being blinded by the flashbulbs and walking off the end of the runway. Hopefully I'll be able to go to a bar and sedate myself after the show."

Substance abuse proved unnecessary. Although the actresses didn't nail the I'm-bored-silly-and-I-can't-wait-to-take-the-Concorde-to-Paris swagger of the 18 professional models who were also in the show, they made up for it with a kiss-blowing pertness that brought cheers from the audience of 1,200. By evening's end a few of the newcomers were considering an encore. "I definitely want to do that again," gushed The Brothers McMullen's Maxine Bahns. Showgirls' Gina Gershon agreed. "Hey," she said. "If models can act, actresses can model."

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