Would you blow pounds 25 on a designer hankie?
WHEN PERFECTLY good paper nosewipes exist for those autumn blow- and-throw moments, why invest in a designer handkerchief? After all, these little squares of cloth are one of life's oddities, combining the worst in both hygiene and fashion. Where is the market for germ storage with a label? To justify the pounds 25 expense of the 100 per cent cotton Hermes hankie, one would surely have to suffer a permanent designer cold. Or else an obsession with lounge suits. Handy breast pockets for displaying that crisp hint of handkerchief are strangely absent on casual clothing.

Available in blue, yellow or white, the Hermes is touted as a "man's handkerchief", although at only 24 square inches of cloth, it's a disappointingly plain and compact slice of manliness. Historical dandies would despair at the lack of frills, but then this is not a hankie for gesticulation. There's just not much to flourish, should you wish to, except for perhaps the discreet, embroidered Hermes logo in the corner.

"The price of a handkerchief is determined less by design than by the skills used and the textile quality," says Martin Addleman of the Irish Linen Company, the thinking nose blower's choice for handkerchiefs. "It's about the integrity of the cloth, and a good handkerchief will always have a hand rolled, rather than machine stitched, edge." The Hermes hankie passes the quality test with its authentically uneven stitching. However, even the gentle roll of an edge cannot make the price authentic.

For a more reasonable pounds 12.50, the Irish Linen Company can offer you the same craftsmanship. A more user friendly and practical investment for show or blow.

But the practicality of the Hermes hand- kerchief is not really the point. It's a late-20th- century nod to a 19th- century fad for showing off with a statement hankie. However, whilst 19th-century versions were radical, printed with satirical cartoons and political statements, the only statement here is disposable income versus disposable Kleenex.

If a statement is what you require, then why not plump for one from novelty hankie sellers, Magnificent Mouchoirs? For a mere pounds 4.95, you too could blow your nose on the London Underground Map, something that would probably bring immense satisfaction to many commuters.