Ephemera raised to the level of social commentary by the author's easy familiarity with the milieu she describes, her cool intelligence and a prose style that's as elegant as a fashion model's cheekbones. Working in a genre often marred by puffery and platitudes, Fraser has created in these four lively vignettes and three longer essays (all previously published in The New Yorker) scores of images with near-Balzacian economy and power. Witty, perceptive, with a sorbet-tart edge of amused sophistication. Fraser's ""fashionable world"" is inhabited by such stylized denizens as nonagenarian ErtÃ‰, designer of sets and costumes for a thousand spectacles; Callas biographer and indefatigable partygoer Arianna Stassinopoulos; and Diana Vreeland, mistress of the cryptic apercu. All are delineated with a few deft penstrokes in their brief appearances. More fully-sketched portraits include Norman Parkinson, photographer of royals and Reagans; cosmetics czarina EstÃ‰e Lauder, and, among other fashion designers, Issey Miyake, Soma Rykiel, Norma Kamali and Hanae Mori. They make a fascinating gallery. While Fraser distances herself from her subjects, she does not view them as grotesques, nor does she pander to her readers' cravings for ""celebrity-by-association."" She has a more serious purpose in mind: to comment on an American society enamored of novelty as a sign of worth. She manages this by examining, with an admirable melding of detachment and affection, the fantasies and foibles, the drives and delusions of this highly rarified world. Finally, then, a superbly balanced, splendidly written analysis of an area of life in the 80's that, directly or indirectly, for better or worse, affects the lives of all of US.