PARTY plans for the handover are in full swing at five-star hotels - traditional party centres in this town - where rooms and restaurants are completely booked out. The people coming in for the events will be worth watching: John Cleese made a reservation at the Mandarin a decade ago and phoned in last week saying he wanted to confirm it. A co-guest at the venerable hotel is Margaret Thatcher while author Jan Morris is booked at the Peninsula across the harbour where she will be signing copies of a book about the Pen. There will be a countdown in the Peninsula's famous lobby and a Chinese theme party the next morning, not unlike the hotel's traditional New Year's Day eggnog bash. Things might be a bit more low-key at the Island Shangri-La, where it is understood a number of high-ranking Chinese cadres will be camped out. bela, the ball the next bash is billed as 'The 1997 China Coast Handover Classic' and is directed at hardened party-goers - or at least anyone who survived the Rugby Sevens. The merrymaking begins in Beijing on June 23, moves on three days later to Shanghai, continues in Hong Kong from June 28 and finally ends - for those still functioning - on the first day under a new regime. The ultimate celebration is a 'Chinese Degustation Dinner' at the Excelsior Hotel in full view of the fireworks, after which watch out for the mother of all handover hangovers. It sounds elaborate and it is. Organiser Ted Marr and his committee have put together a programme of events that required military precision, what with Bloody Marys on the Great Wall, Mongolian barbecues and jazz band sessions. The China stint of the ultra-party is $16,380 per person including everything but getting there; the two days in Hong Kong costs about half that. Then there's the expense of the wardrobe to consider, with dress codes that call for 'a rainbow of silks', or 'hats and spats, dandies and grandees, summer sparkles' and several chinoiserie and tai-tai numbers. Guests could become so obsessed with what they should wear that they'll forget why they're there in the first place. Shelling out HELENE Wong, director of the Sydney-based company Pearl & Pearl, is faxing her friends in the territory suggesting 'we all come together and take part in this most exciting occasion'. But Wong is not referring to the handover. She is having her first exhibition and sale of South Sea pearls in Hong Kong, featuring pearls from 'the first harvest of 1997' from Broome, Australia. The goodies at the Grand Hyatt exhibition this Wednesday and Thursday will range in price from several thousand dollars to 'a million or so'. But Wong is tempting would-be buyers with exhortations that 'prices are set to rise' and that Karl Lagerfeld, God of the Fashion Universe, 'recently declared South Sea pearls to be an essential piece of jewellery for the fashionable and sophisticated.' end results IT takes a brave woman to pose for before-and-after shots in her swimwear. But it's just been done by three ordinary women and not for some tacky health-club ad for a change. This is the clever marketing ploy of Lands' End, the mail order fashion company - and it's one that will probably work. Three women posed in their usual swimsuits and then tried on ones that had been recommended by the United States company to be more figure-enhancing. The results, without retouching, seem to speak for themselves. Particularly appealing is the Halter Slender Suit which the blurb promises 'lets you look 10 pounds thinner'. The company is also savvy enough to make mastectomy versions and D-cup options. At last, someone with real fashion sense. A-list, again STYLE diva Joyce Ma continues to do the territory proud. Ma, the head of the Joyce empire and perhaps the best-known Asian face on the international fashion circuit, has made yet another best-dressed list. The New York-based International Best-Dressed Poll, founded in 1940 by fashion PR guru Eleanor Lambert and compiled by 1,500 fashion editors and industry insiders, counted Ma as one of the world's most stylishly put-together women. The retailer is in excellent company. Also included were Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and Duty Free Stores heiress Marie-Chantal Miller, now Princess Pavlos of Greece. Hollywood celebrities Nicole Kidman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Gwyneth Paltrow also made the grade.