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Forget fashion victims, real men wear clothes

Not all the menswear shows in Paris last week were outrageous and determined to shock; Tamsin Blanchard saw some wearable outfits that fit the body without flaunting it
"I kept thinking, who's going to wear these clothes? Who's going to buy them to put in their shop? I saw a very nice suit. It was single- breasted, three buttons, narrow trousers. In black." Except it was in the body of someone in the audience,not on the catwalk.

These were the words of an "outsider", someone with no other interest in fashion than that of wearing it. We took him to see the menswear shows, a preview of what he may or may not be wearing next summer. We had just left the show of Issey Miyake. The collection was a fine display of new technology and the latest synthetic fabrics and, according to our man in the street, what not to do with them. There were trousers that draped like those of an Eighties New Romantic. There were jackets that bounced as you walked, there was a tartan nylon cropped jacket ruched at the back into a cheeky little bow. There were clothes that our man could not relate to.

What the average man (the average British man, at least) wants to see on the catwalk are the sort of clothes made by John Rocha, Paul Smith, the Spanish designer Antonio Miro, and Dries van Noten, a Belgian, who showed his naval-inspired collection in Florence a fortnight ago. Clothes that are not so fussy and over-designed as to make the wearer feel conscious of every move he makes. Clothes that will not make him feel like a big girl's blouse.

But on Planet He-Man, created by the fashion models, the hair slick runs freely, trousers are rolled up at a jaunty height, Lycra tops are stretched so tight over the pecs that you wonder how the lungs can still function, and shirt collars are just too tricky for words.

Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons experiments with clothes without making innuendoes about the wearer's sexuality. Her collection for next summer was modelled by men of all ages and physiques. You do not have to be an Adonis with pumped-up muscles to wear her tailored suits sewn with plastic panels and reflective tape, which fitted the body without flaunting it.

At Jean Paul Gaultier there were clothes for men with the bodies of superheroes, although more Robin than Batman. In a surreal show that took place around a karaoke soundtrack, the beefy, muscle-bound male equivalents of Claudia Schiffer and Elle Macpherson - Marcus Schenkenberg, Cameron and friends - camped their way down the leopard-print catwalk in exaggerated teddy- boy quiffs and bouffants, wearing a collection of Village People uniforms in fluorescent colours, matching clutch bags, stretch hipster jumpsuits and brightly coloured Elvis suits, with a few of Gaultier's highly wearable "straight" suits thrown in along the way.

This was a show designed to make the boys whoop, and whoop they did when the walking blow-up He-Dolls appeared in nothing but jock-straps and their sheer pink nylon frilled negliges. It might have been more entertaining than the Chippendales. It had about as much subtlety, too. But then, men design sexual fantasy clothes for women all the time, so this is nothing new.

For men who do not spend hours each day working out on the pec machine at the gym, Walter Van Beirendonck, the Belgian designer of W&LT, whose spectacular show included an interactive CD-Rom with a virtual-reality catwalk show that became physical reality, had just the thing.

His inflatable plastic muscle jackets will make the puniest man look like beefcake. Despite the theatrics, the moving stages, the flying dinosaur, the black horse and its warrior rider, the clothes at W&LT were wearable by real men, whether muscle-bound or not. At times they degenerated into sci-fi costume, but the wide military trousers, the printed techno T-shirts and the fold-away jackets in intense, bold colours were eminently wearable. This does not have to mean boring or staid.

What British designers Paul Smith, John Rocha and Griffin Laundry all offered were clothes that our fashion outsider could relate to. He liked the way the Griffin Laundry clothes did not have that brand-new, just- ironed look - they appear lived in and comfortable. He liked the soft safari shirts in pale summery colours at Paul Smith. He liked the bright and groovy checked trousers and the softly tailored jackets at John Rocha.

What these clothes all had in common is that they were unfussy. They did not have fancy seams or silly pockets just for the sake of "updating" a perfectly good jacket shape. The average British man does not want to look like a Chippendale, he wants to look like himself, an individual, and these are clothes that will let his own identity shine through.