MAN oeuvres


THERE'S a widespread complaint among members of the fashion following public that what's shown by designers on the ramp often bears little relation to what subsequently goes on sale. While this may be true for women's wear, where fantastical clothes are photographed and then never seen again, the inherent sobriety of men's fashion tends to exclude too much extravagance even on the catwalk.

Certainly at last week's menswear shows in Paris, common sense not silliness was the prevailing tone. At Hermes, for example, the fabrics were luxurious but the shapes easy, understated and impeccably tailored. Cashmere and suede abounded, the latter used for a knee length navy coat with epaulettes, a pair of inverted pleats at the back and two discreet buckle fastening straps at the waist, the former for a similar length, six button, double breasted coat shown with navy ribbed wool straight trousers.

Suits at Hermes were often in chalkstripe and pinstripe, with double vents at the back of the jacket and both pleated and flat front trousers. A frockcoat style jacket - which could also do service as a short coat - turned up often, buttoning high with a covered front. Close fitting knitwear included the currently popular lightweight high V neck and heavier wool and cashmere polonecks. For evenings, suits and trousers came in wool crepe combined with a series of shirts in velvet devore.

Velvet was a regular feature in John Rocha's very well received show. The Dublin based designer used the fabric for separates and suits, sometimes in a single colour such as sand or deep aubergine, elsewhere in brilliant stripes such as blue and orange. Bold checks in these two last colours on a base of moss green were another Rocha favourite.

Jackets here, as elsewhere, were square shouldered with a slightly wider silhouette than has been the case of late, and the six button, double breasted style came with broad rather than narrow legged trousers. In addition to velvet, he also used a soft, flecked Donegal tweed and, as if acknowledging his roots in Hong Kong, embroidered Chinese brocade for trousers and waistcoats. Shearling overcoats look set to be one of his biggest successes next season, along with charcoal pinstripe suits for men who prefer a less adventurous approach to dressing.

Sobriety of this kind was rampant at Dries Van Noten's show, where a seriously dark palette of black, grey and brown reigned until occasional flashes of yellow and white at the close. Long ribbed poloneck sweaters were worn with full length gun metal quilted coats topped by three quarter length jackets; beneath these accumulated layers were narrow legged bitter chocolate wool pants. Coats here were generally long and untapered with big patch and flap pockets; shorter jackets to the hip were invariably zip fronted, as were Dries Van Noten's cable stitch cardigans. Oxford bags turned up (with turn ups) here too and since the Belgian designer announced that his collection was inspired by Asian traditions, at times there was a certain oriental sense, thanks to pieces such as shirt collared quilted, four pocket jackets with matching loose pants.

Paul Smith's orientalism was from a nearer source, thanks to some giant Indian inspired, Paisley pattern prints used on shirts. In his mainline collection, Smith opted for luxury fabrics such as cashmere, alpaca and mohair and allowing for occasional outbreaks of dazzling colour - dark greys and some brown. Shirts were fairly fitted and with high collars (thanks to two buttons at the throat), while suits came with the biggest window pane checks imaginable.

Again, boxy shouldered, wide lapelled, double breasted jackets were combined with Oxford bag type pants with pleats at the waistband, but like other designers Paul Smith also produced narrow legged flat front trousers. And knitwear had that shrunk to fit look that is very much around right now. Aside from some rather wild malachite green mock croc coats and trousers, everything here - as with the other shows in Paris last week - looked as though it could go straight from catwalk into the average man's wardrobe.