MENSWEAR BECOMES ECCENTRIC

 

THERE was heavy snowfall in Paris over the weekend, which made it entirely appropriate that the menswear collections on show should I have been for autumn/winter - even if they look forward to 1996/97. Unfortunately, many of the designers seemed to overlook the weather and opt for al fresco settings.

The W.& L.T. label, for example, was shown late at night, in a tent pitched in the centre of a racecourse on the outskirts of Paris. Jose Levy, meanwhile, invited his guests to settle as best they could wooden benches in a dilapi dated garage (hand warmers were distributed amid the crowd) and Dries Van Noten showed in an open air market underneath railway arches. On arrival at the last of these, everyone was presented with a wool blanket and a hot drink, giving the event the atmosphere of a fashion refugee camp.

Perhaps Foxford should have offered to provide the" blankets because there was a stronger than usual Irish presence in Paris this time, thanks in part to a large contingent marshalled by the Trade Board at SEHM, the menswear fair held at Porte de Versailles. Among the shows, Ireland was highly visible and John Rocha presented his best range of men's clothing yet.

On the basis of this collection, Rocha's market is now evenly split between the sexes. Once more he managed to demonstrate a keen awareness of current trends while putting his own twist on them. Overall, the silhouette is sharp edged, as seen in Rocha's skinny gun metal grey suits worn with short belted raincoats that came with faux fur collars. At times, there was almost a teddy boy feel to clothes, such as the leopard spot three button jacket combined with trousers so narrow they could hardly pass as drainpipes.

Although the line remained narrow throughout, for a softer outlook Rocha produced suits in a nutty textured black and white tweed, the jacket given a twist, thanks to the strip of fake snakeskin running along its base. The current popularity of checks was reflected in a Prince of Wales pattern in honey beige and ox blood while velvet put in an appearance with a series of suits in vivid shades of mustard, electric blue and purple.

Equally bright colours were on show at Dior, too, where menswear designer Patrick Lavoix presented what he called Une Balla de Irlandaise. It transpired that Monsieur Lavoix has never visited this country, although at a reception in the Irish embassy on Friday evening he said he'd love to be invited (Bord Failte, please take note).

His impression of Ireland wouldn't necessarily be in accord with its natives, owing more to picture postcards and fantastical notions of country, life than the more prosaic reality. But nobody condemned Yeats for not undertaking a sea voyage before he wrote Sailing to Byzantium, so why should the Dior designer be condemned for his interpretation of life here? The majority of clothes, after all, were made from Irish fabrics and the combination of colours and patterns was wonderfully imaginative.

Almost in the mood of Christian Lacroix, bold checks in different colours were layered long military greatcoats in tones of green and brown were thrown over jackets of grey and lavender blue combined with trousers in bitter chocolate. A four button suit in windowpane check of green, yellow and plum had been combined with a waistcoat of deep green suede, an azure blue shirt and mustard check tie. In the section of the show called "Trinity College" other fanciful names included "Connemara", "Ryan's Daughter", "The Importance of Being Ernest" (L'Importance d'Etre Constant) and "You Too" - there were distinctly unstudent like ensembles; burnt orange cashmere throws over bitter chocolate cashmere jackets and black/petrol blue and yellow check trousers. Don't expect to see too many of these turning up at lectures over the months ahead.

Equally extravagant were the "Rock Star" outfits close to the end of Dior's show - midnight blue velvet jackets with electric blue shirts and trousers in an array of lurex patchwork.

These were somewhat bolder than the kind of clothes most Irishmen are prepared to wear, although Paris based fashion editor Godfrey Deeny looked completely at ease modelling at the Dior show, perhaps because he'd already put in an appearance the day before at Yohji Yamamoto. The Japanese designer is obviously preoccupied with the Middle East at the moment, because he sent out not only Mr Deeny but most of the other models in clothes which wouldn't look out of place at a desert caravanserai.

Long wool skirts slit at the side came out over narrow legged trousers and beneath layered wool cardigans, wonderfully exotic but even less likely than Dior to achieve large sales here.

Towards the close of the Yamamoto show appeared a number of enormous faux fur coats in primary colours banded with wide strips of nylon.

Similar clothes turned up also at Walter Van Beirendonek's W.& L.T. (Wild & Lethal Trash) show where the emphasis was very definitely on synthetic fabrics in the brightest shades. Like a 1960s vision of the future (remember?), models appeared in jersey separates of yellow and green more skirts as well as skinny long sleeved Tshirts and narrow legged trousers.

Then there were enormous puffa nylon coats and pants shown on middle aged men with beards, followed by still more turquoise, green, yellow and red nylon.

More likely to achieve widespread sales is the work of another Belgian designer, Dirk Bikkembergs who, in the past two years has become one of Europe's best selling names in menswear. His latest collection, explained why this should be so; almost without exception, the clothes were both commercial and completely au courant.

BIKKEMBERGS's suits, both double and single breasted, were close fitting and high fastening - up to the neck in some instances. His designs are full of invention, giving a fresh edge to what might otherwise look stale; a black wool peacoat came with a generous band of leather running around both the body and both sleeves, a black leather jacket came lined with orange nylon, wool coats were darted to fit at the waist with the addition of a ruched half belt at the back.

As everywhere else, there was a propensity for nylon, electric blue for suits as well as the more usual black and orange.

If all this still sounds too adventurous, then it was possible to find an even more gentle interpretation of the current mood at Rykiel Homme. Here the silhouette was still slender and tapering and synthetic fabrics were employed but nothing could be considered exaggerated.

Knitwear, as befits the label, was strong with plenty of sweaters stopping just at the waist; this new shape is also close fitting and usually has a high V or polo neck. Rykiel also included what looks set to be the favourite sweater shape for next winter - a sleeveless round neck that sits tight across the chest.

In addition, there were zip fronted cardigans (another regular across the shows) and the same high fastening four button casual jackets offered by quite a few other designers Rykiel's version hugged the waist just that little hit closer thanks to little buckle fastenings on either side. Wool checks, velvet and corduroy showed up here too, the last of them cut thick and in honey beige or powder blue.

And these fabrics turned up too at Hermes, where regular applause throughout the show indicated that this long established house has managed to judge the mood correctly. As with Rykiel, clothes here were gentler and much more luxurious interpretations of what's happening in menswear right now.

Not much evidence of nylon, therefore, but instead a preference for silk and cashmere, the latter often blended with a little lycra to give it a contemporary quality. So, even the most conservative businessman wouldn't be able to resist Hermes's long, granite grey cashmere overcoat worn with a double breasted grey pinstripe suit and white cotton poplin shirt; standard items that through expert tailoring were given a sharp, crisp finish.

Checks came in Hermes orange and grey for a window pane pattern combined with grey cashmere polo neck and orange cashmere and cotton mix trousers. Corduroy, again in the house orange and in a cashmere and cotton blend, was used for suits teamed with fine deepest plum cashmere sweaters.

Without a doubt, and to the relief of many men, these clothes showed that it's possible to be in touch with changing trends and yet not be obliged to wear nylon or leather. But that still leaves the question of colour. Even if it's made from cashmere, how do you feel about wearing an orange suit?

The Slim Silhouette. Continuing an established trend, menswear is increasingly cut close to the line of the body. This means narrow shoulders (although often sharply squared in shape) and jackets tapering into the waist with either a single or double vent at the back. Suit jackets usually have three buttons but for separates and casuals, the number can vary between one and five. Double breasted jackets are reappearing after several seasons out of favour but again they differ from their predecessors in being a tighter fit and buttoning high. As a result of jackets closing nearer the neck, waistcoats are falling out of favour at the moment.

The Trouser. Think long and think lean. Occasionally trousers are flaring very slightly below the knee but most are straight and slim. Pleats at the waistband have almost entirely disappeared and pants are cut tight across the rear too. It's worth repeating that flat fronted trousers need flat fronted stomachs.

The Shirt. Like the jacket, the shape here is slender and tapering, with sleeves cut high at the armhole and following the line pretty closely down to the wrist.

Collars are getting longer and more pointed and the buttondown collar is becoming increasingly popular.

Knitwear. As waistcoats fall from favour, lightweight sleeveless knits are starting to take their place. Chunky knits are definitely out of bounds. Instead, think of fine weights that (once more) are skin tight, even along the arms, and stop short at the waist. High V necks are very popular as are polo necks. Look out too for cardigan jackets which are only fractionally looser. Ribbed knits are particularly successful - the vertical line emphasises the narrow fit - and when there is any pattern, it tends to be either simple blocks of contrasting colour in either rectangular or diamond pattern.

Colours. Brown and navy look like displacing grey in the next year (in some quarters black, of course, will never go out fashion). Not just brown but also beige and camel too, in fact, the whole spectrum of coffee and chocolate tones put up a strong showing right now. In addition, the kind of vivid colours seen in women's wear of late now turn up for men too. There's lots of orange especially, but also bright red, lime green and lemon yellow - all tones especially sympathetic to synthetic fabrics.

Outerwear. There are a number of options here. The new overcoat is long - to mid calf and lean and therefore works best if the man wearing it can be described in the same way. For the stockier build, a wiser choice would be the peacoat, seen everywhere in both double and single breasted form, which stops at mid thigh.

Fabrics. Nylon, nylon and perhaps a little more nylon. But rest assured that's not quite the whole story. Fabrics are getting steadily lighter and even wools and tweeds now come only in the finest weaves. Wool crepe is widely used because of its surface detail or else cashmere and silk mixed with wool, alpaca or cotton. Satin and silk have largely fallen out of favour for shirts, but leather either real or imitation - appear to have taken their place. Leather indeed for coats, jackets and trousers is now widely used.

Footwear. If you're still wearing shoes with pointed toes, bin them now. The shape is either square or very round, the forms heavy and often with a slight wedge. In contrast to the body's slim silhouette, it's a chunky shape you want for your feet.