Fashion: They'd rather be dad: Next summer, it will be cool to be as uncool as your father. Alison Veness sees the Jacques Tati look emerge at the menswear collections in Paris

The male of the species has had a hard time in the past few years. He has been offered the opportunity to wear skirts, cajoled into dubiously loud shirts, made ridiculous in flash leather and cloned into the role of aspiring architect in ever so tasteful, top-to-toe navy.

At this week's Paris menswear spring/summer '95 collections, a utopian vision of Nineties man began to emerge in the guise of the father figure.

By next summer it is going to be cool to be uncool, hip to be unhip, plain good enough to be plain dad, to revel in shopping alone, indulging in the sort of suit that only dads can come home with, the sort of suit that sends a young daughter into paroxysms of squealing embarrassment.

For what we saw on the catwalks and in the leafy Parisian courtyards was a father figure straight out of an American B-movie circa 1959, a Dick Powell, a Monty Woolley. What we also saw was a character reminiscent of Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot, a geeky, lovable, sophisticated innocent in his muted but amusing plaid trousers, sporting a jaunty hat. At Issey Miyake, make-believe Monsieur Hulot even managed to walk on the balls of his feet.

And like father, like son; a whole army of young junior dads emerged, boys barely with the fluff off their faces, who had outgrown their trousers and were about to grow into their jackets, bought one size too big.

At Comme des Garcons the show resembled a kindergarten, with young, faintly feminine Tadzios straight out of Death in Venice. The boys with their cockerel quiffs stole the show; the cavernous clothes took second place.

Jose Levy, one of the rising stars of the French menswear scene, produced the perfect blend of family values. Boys in too short M & S-style suits joined train-spotting dads and closet matchbox and beer-mat collectors, dressed in beige slacks and nondescript casual tops. He had been inspired by Pee Wee Herman.

For all the gawkiness there was also an elegance to pater, his Noel Coward cravat tucked into his crisp white shirt, ideal attire for smoking one's cigar, or putting up one's feet in tartan slippers and smoking a pipe.

Dries Van Noten, the radical Belgian, treated us to such elegance, with neatly tailored suits of a post-Edwardian, pre-teddy boy cut. Trousers were narrow and sharp like those worn in Breathless by the terrifically sexy Georges de Beauregard. They came in colours of pale sugar almond, deep raspberry and soft taupe, dove grey and butterscotch. His young men wore preppy sweaters with a feint argyle, and librarian-neat, buttoned-up, single-breasted suits with a shave of tie showing at the neck.

One intrinsic element of fatherdom was the return of the double vent jacket, which is not particularly flattering but beloved by men who like to stroll, hands in pockets, flaps down.

At Hermes, a label normally swamped by scarf prints and horsey tradition, the designer Veronique Nichanian delivered a polished and supremely confident collection which flowed easily from tailored suits through to embroidered lounge jackets.

This was dad on holiday, dad yachting, dad playing crazy golf, dad building sandcastles and buying ice creams. Delicious minty striped suits were worn with burgundy bow ties; plaid, softly tailored blazers (a take on pyjama jackets) were edged with piping; and knitted twinsets, one of the favourites for next summer, looked comfy and relaxed.

But as we all know, daddy is Mr DIY. and no Sunday would be complete without washing the family car or having a quick turn on the Qualcast, and for these admirable pursuits designers created a plethora of boiler suits. The Dutchman Alexander van Slobbe (nothing like his name, his signature is precise and minimal), the designer of So, put pottering fathers into silvery nylon and polyurethane no-nonsense all-in-ones; Jose Levy produced more traditional Kwik-Fit versions in vivid turquoise cotton.

Workwear in the latest synthetic (part of the anti-natural backlash), hi-tech, high-shine nylons and waxed, glazed and oiled cottons was much in evidence, and in many of the more whimsical collections will provide the main meat for buyers.

For there were many wild cards at the shows: like the deeply distressing penchant for string vests; suits made from fraying terry towelling; and lastly, the ominous return of the foam shoulder pad as championed by Jean Paul Gaultier in an unremittingly camp show.

The most exciting ideas in Paris came from the less well-established names which people are still struggling to pronounce. The old guard, the Pierre Balmains and the Paco Rabannes, failed to inspire, serving up staple, predictable but bland offerings.

That's not to say that dad has to be seen around town in the latest label. He needs simply to follow his instinct: do the daddy thing.

Main photograph: ISSEY MIYAKE: Monsieur Hulot in jaunty panama hat. Far left top: SO, Dad does DYI in silvery boiler suit. Far left bottom: HERMES, softly

tailored take on the pyjama jacket. Bottom left: COMME DES GARCONS, boys will be fathers. Bottom centre: JOSE LEVY, neat suit with airy ankles. Bottom right: DRIES VAN NOTEN, the buttoned-up librarian.

(Photographs omitted)

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