For Everyman

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Next summer's clothes will be for men who prefer their stuff to look lived-in rather than spanking new; comfort and ease is the message from Paris and Milan - soft linen suits are back, this time in baby pastels and sandwashed colours. By Tamsin Blanchard

Photographs by Jon Fischer

One size fits all mankind. That was the message at Yohji Yamamoto's collection at the menswear shows in Paris last week. The designer could never be accused of not designing for real men, rather than the chisel- jawed, six-foot-two fantasy variety. There were fat men, tall skinny men, shrunken pintsized boys, limping men, and the odd pierced one too.

We got the message: Yohji's clothes can be worn by all shapes and sizes. That doesn't necessarily mean they will always flatter: someone should have pointed out that small men don't suit big, baggy clothes and that very tall stick men just don't look great in bronze silk smock dresses. But then it's not a good look on man nor beast of any shape or form.

Whatever your shape or size, however, you can rest assured that Yohji will have something to fit next summer. Just make sure your wallet is as bulging as your stomach.

When menswear designers fall back on the old trick of showing their clothes on novelty models, it's often a sure sign that they have run out of ideas. Not so in the case of Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garcons. She showed her collection on some of the hottest talents in graphic design, including the London-based Tomato (the team responsible for the opening credits of Trainspotting) and two of the founders of New York art and fashion periodical, Visionaire.

Kawakubo asked each group to design an invite for her show and continued the relationship by making clothes for them to model. There were beer guts, there were both the vertically and the horizontally challenged. And there were clothes that looked comfortable and just right. Comme des Garcons hit the big trend of next summer on the head: comfort and ease. "The clothes are nothing special," I was told before the show.

And that's just it. Most men don't want anything "special". They don't want design details for the sake of them, a new collar to make a jacket "new" or a strange trouser length, like those cropped at the ankle at Prada, to look "modern". They don't want fashion. They want clothes. At Comme des Garcons, they were loose and generously cut. There were classic single-breasted suits, plain, zip-front jackets, easy knitted tunics and cardigans, wide cotton trousers, and natural rough-and-tumble fabrics like linen (the Irish linen industry is going to have a busy year) and raw silk, often treated with a synthetic over the top to give a durable finish.

These were just the sort of clothes that men like chubby Alexander McQueen and tiny Azzeddine Alaia, both designers watching the show, would wear and not look like fashion victims. And besides, the designers who modelled the clothes are just the kind of customer who wears Comme des Garcons.

Rei Kawakubo also set the colour trends: bright white, neutral pebble tones and pale pastels. In Milan the previous week, as in Paris, sandwashed colours and baby pastels prevailed. At Givenchy narrow-trousered soft linen suits were in pistachio, pink and little boy blue.

Richard Tyler scored full marks for his subtle colour palette that ranged from bright blue to silver grey and aubergine at a no-nonsense, modern collection for Byblos in Milan.

Issey Miyake's futuristic collection, which was much more wearable and relaxed than usual, used a lot of white as well as ice blue, khaki and pale pink. It also boasted some intricate techno prints in jacket linings, coats and T-shirts.

The best clothes next summer will be the ones that look worn in before you even try them on, a concept that appeals to a lot of men who have a phobia about spanking new clothes. Dolce & Gabbana changed direction from lean, sharp tailoring to all things wide and casual. Crumpled suiting and comfortable fatigue pants looked like old friends.

Belgian designer Dries Van Noten's collection, too, was loose and easy, in crumpled cottons, soft linens and with a long, layered silhouette that hinted at North African djellabahs and tunics. The collection is vast with something for everyone, whether you want a more structured jacket or a sloppy knit.

Clothes inspired by India and Morocco are always good for summer. Your clothes can be tropical even if the weather isn't. While Dries looked once again to North Africa and Miro hinted at India with Nehru collars, sarongs and long layers, Kenzo took a full-blown tour of the sub-continent with exotic mixes of texture, colour and layers. Gold sarees were worn over classic tailored trousers, and while you might not want to dress like something from the last days of the Raj, a little vibrant colour or henna tattoo pattern goes a long way.

For the British designers in Paris - John Rocha, Nigel Curtiss and Paul Smith - the inspiration was much closer to home. John Rocha's trousers made of rich brocade owed more to Bryan Ferry's Roxy Music days than to exotic cultures, while his football T-shirts worn with loose trousers and Seventies Adidas trainers came from the wardrobe of football hero George Best. Tokyo-based Nigel Curtiss, who also launched a small collection of basic womenswear, put a jowly Simon le Bon in narrow drainpipes, and sportswear.

If you like your clothes to have a little sex appeal, look at Rykiel Homme where the suits were sleek and shiny. If you like your clothes to have a lot of sex appeal, go to Jean-Paul Gaultier, who chose to show his Italian Stallion, Latin lover collection quite appropriately in Milan rather than Paris.

Or take a look at Gucci, where trousers were so slim they left little to the imagination. Both JPG and Gucci included denim in their collections, indigo blue and embroidered at Gaultier and washed out and shredded with pockets sewn with diamanted Gs at Gucci.

It is not just women who are about to endure a return to the power dressing of the Eighties. Wide shoulders and hefty shoulder pads are back. While Gucci's high-rise shoulders were about power, sex and money, Paul Smith's were about a return to good old English structured tailoring. His collection was packed with chintzy prints, regency florals and English country manor wallpapers. The Aristocratic Dandy look might prove a little too English for most English men, but the Japanese - for whom Paul Smith is part of the royal family - will love it.

Finally, away from Paris and Milan, and on another planet altogether, that of the Belgian designer Walter Van Beirendonck's W&LT. When Yohji Yamamoto talks about "all mankind", he has human beings in mind. Van Beirendonck, built like a lightweight sumo wrestler, has always used models of all shapes and sizes to show his bright and fun collection of graphic T-shirts, baggy fatigue pants, and generally crazy ideas. Last week his idea of "all mankind" included hillbilly square dancers, white body-stockinged aliens on cantilevered stilts, and tango dancers with bright green gas masks and rubber gloves. Perhaps there is life on Mars after all.

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