Few are the women who skimp on their wedding dresses. As expensive fashion atrophies, one sure market for pricey dresses is bridal, which may be one reason more designers are introducing wedding collections. Giorgio Armani, Eric Gaskins, Heidi Weisel and Byron Lars are among those new to the business.

"It's a pretty consistent market for high-end product," said Anne Barge Clegg, the general manager of the Saks Fifth Avenue bridal salons.For the bridal market, saddled with gowns that resemble nothing so much as over-decorated wedding cakes, the entry of these designers signals a growing customer demand for fashionable bridal wear.

As women marry later and more often, the sophistication quotient demanded of wedding dresses has bumped up several notches. The average age of a bride has risen from 18 in the 1950s to 25 today, said Millie Bratten, the editor in chief of Bride's magazine.

Clegg said: "Women are so much more fashion-conscious, there's becoming more of a tie-in to ready-to-wear. They expect the fashion to be carried over into their wedding dress."

Paralleling the interest in wedding dresses is an interest in bridesmaids and mothers of the bride. Lars, Liz Claiborne, ABS and Nicole Miller are expanding in these areas. "The sell-through on these bridesmaids' dresses is extraordinary," said Harriet Mosson, the president of Liz Claiborne Dresses.

Mary Ann Wheaton, who is Lars' business partner (and whose husband, Michel Zelnik, is an owner of Kleinfeld's, the bridal chain, which has its own stores and also runs the bridal salons in Saks), said she tested some Lars satin bridal-party jackets last year in stores. The result was that Lars will concentrate on styles for the mother of the bride.

The expense of producing pristine, intricate gowns can be significant for a small company, she said. "For a designer, in a way, it's a fantasy," she added. "It's where the customer doesn't ask the price of tulle, the price of beading. There is a market there. I just don't think designers can expect it to be like underwear."