THE message is the same from the menswear collections in both Milan and Paris. Here is how the fashionable man may look in the summer of '94: his hair is cropped short, he has sandals on his feet, and he is wearing an unlined white linen shirt-jacket with a loose white linen shirt over wide linen trousers.

Designers are in the mood to meditate. The new sensibility is romantic, spiritual, inward-looking. Mind and soul win out over body and biceps. It is no coincidence that white is the favourite colour.

This vision will be watered down by the time these clothes reach real men. So the shirt-jacket will be replaced by a jacket with maybe a touch of structure; navy blue will replace white; and the hair will be longer, but still neat rather than grungey.

After grunge, menswear is tidying up. No more clashing prints and colours. Grunge broke up fashion, but now fashion can move on with new confidence.

The dominant influence is India. Designers are having their shirts made in India, using Indian fabrics, print and embroidery. The Nehru jacket returns from the sartorial graveyard. Veronique Nichanian, the designer at Hermes, showed Nehru jackets in blue-grey sun-bleached linen and short-sleeved versions in silk shantung. Everything she designed looked good, from her shirt-jackets in oatmeal linen crepe with soft beige overchecks to khaki linen bermudas just right for the polo field.

For this Indian summer, the turban and other quixotic accessories used by Jean Paul Gaultier are optional extras, but his tight-cut Nehru jackets were as tempting as those at Hermes, although tailored for a more avant-garde market.

In the designers' eyes, at least, a romanticised version of India is more than another stop on a never-ending global tour. It represents a genuine desire for escapism, perhaps even a retreat from materialism.

In Milan, this trend had very specific overtones. In their own way, fashion designers were making a statement about the corruption endemic in the Italian state. Franco Moschino made it explicit, producing a T-shirt with the slogan of the anti-corruption campaign: 'mani puliti' or 'clean hands'.

Gianni Versace preferred to ignore the storm clouds in Milan, retreating into full-blown romanticism. In the gardens of his house on the Via Gesu, he hung giant Bruce Weber photo-prints of roses and arranged the models in a series of rose-strewn tableaux. Versace was punching holes in his fabrics, filling suits and shirt-jackets with perforations. The designer wanted to promote an informal and carefree type of fashion, using crumpled cotton and linen rather than the smooth fabrics that he has favoured in the past.

Giorgio Armani's restrained, sophisticated tailoring seems right for the moment. So, also, does his casualwear: soft, floppy, pyjama dressing; loose shirts and cropped knitted waistcoats; washed-out stripes and Tunisian prints. Armani's ethnic inspiration is Mediterranean rather than Indian, but the message is the same, made clear in Armani's own press release, which talks about the need for 'development of the mind and soul'.

Designers like to put men's clothes together in loose layers. The principal exponent of this is Dries Van Noten, the influential young Belgian, who showed his collection in a Paris alleyway full of Indian shops. Nothing spectacular here, but the clothes were a treat: long cardigans and striped sweaters, relaxed unstructured jackets with touches of ethnic pattern, more often than not in the linen fabrics which were everywhere this season. Dolce e Gabbana did the same, but added sarongs. Even Nino Cerruti, best known for his classic tailoring, loosened up with a series of unlined shirt jackets and linen waistcoats.

In Paris, however, Paul Smith is pushing on from layer dressing. His collection was called '20th Century Mashers' after the dandies of the 1890s who did their own take on the frock coat, wearing jackets that were slightly flared with a suppressed waist. Smith's tailoring was only part of the story. There were cowgirl print waistcoats, yellow tartan suits and navy blue mesh sweaters. In the showroom, the designer's cheaper PS range included men's stretch Lycra tops, cropped shirts and jackets, suggesting a move towards a slimmer, more fitted look.

The shows were strong all round, which suggests that designers have not been affected creatively, at least, by the worldwide slump in demand for high fashion. Best to pluck out simple but beautifully made individual pieces from the collections. When the season comes round, and if you can afford it, buy an unlined suede blazer from Gucci, a pair of Katharine Hamnett washed drill trousers, a cropped waistcoat by Jean Paul Gaultier. And if you can't afford it, wait until Next or Marks & Spencer produce something similar. Ultimately, the label on the clothing doesn't matter one jot.

(Photographs omitted)