Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor ...

Designers at the Paris shows last week had something to fulfil every schoolboy fantasy. But is this what big boys want? By Tamsin Blanchard. Pictures by Sheridan Morley
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Indy Lifestyle Online
What do you want to be when you grow up, son? A cowboy? A sailor? An alien from outer space? A football player? A spy? A pimp? Surely not. Well, rest assured. Next spring/summer '97, there will be clothes on sale to fit all those fantasies.

The menswear designers who showed their collections in Paris last week, including John Rocha (cowboy), Yohji Yamamoto (naval officer), Ozwald Boateng (spy), Jean Paul Gaultier (sailor or pimp), and W&LT (spaceman), have made clothes to make your childhood dreams come true. Sartorially, at least.

The nautical look is a recurring theme every summer: the combination of navy and white is an easy one to get right and deck shoes have become an obvious choice for summer footwear. Unless your ship is ahoy, however, you might look like a sad old landlubber if you venture out on the streets in a sailor's outfit. And anyway, when it comes down to it, most men want an easy solution to their dressing needs. They want clothes that will fit and flatter without making them look like fashion plates, or, for that matter, like a role model they aspired to at the age of six.

Rei Kawakubo of Comme Des Garcons has designed a collection that addresses the everyday wardrobe needs of men of all ages, shapes and sizes. And that, surely, is the role of the designer. There is a tendency in menswear to over-design; the plain well-cut suit and the perfectly tailored shirt is all most men want. They don't necessarily want ditsy details like double shirt collars or jackets with fancy reveres.

Kawakubo worked within the parameters of classic menswear, but used clashing checks, subtle colour combinations and fine couture brocades to give the clothes the all-important desirability factor that will make men want to buy them.

Nigel Curtiss, a British designer based in Tokyo, once worked for Comme Des Garcons as international sales director. He now has his own label and he, too, played with the subtleties of men's clothing without straying too far over the edge. His collection was scattered with quirky details: a double tie that has contrasting checks, short-sleeved shirts elasticated around the sleeves, sportswear mixed with traditional tailoring, and fabrics ranging from plain old-fashioned cotton to shiny stainless-steel velvet.

The designer also had the help of two celebrity models: Mickey Rourke, who is being dressed by Curtiss for his forthcoming movie Nine and a Half Weeks II, and Joel Cantona, brother of Eric.

It takes confidence to design a menswear collection without feeling the need constantly to redesign the jacket or a pair of trousers. Paul Smith is at one with his customers. And he gives them what they want, be it a comical mad-cow print T-shirt, a brightly coloured cricket sweater or a purple-check tonic suit.

For the more fashion-conscious, there were trousers with a bit of tame bondage and D-ring detailing. And for Paul Smith's ever-growing Japanese market, there were tartan T-shirts in every conceivable colourway that will sell and sell.

Dries Van Noten is another designer who does not feel the need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, the Belgian designer makes huge collections of clothing that are guaranteed to include something for everyone: a safari jacket, a plain black single-breasted suit, a zip-front nylon caftan/anorak, an heirloom scarf, or an intricate knit. If next summer's new straight, wide-leg trousers, which appeared in almost every collection, are not for you (in other words, if you are anything less than 5ft 8ins), then there are trousers with narrow legs, or flat fronts or drawstring waists. The collection was presented in a Bedouin-style tent and, like his womenswear for autumn/winter, drew on North Africa and the Arabian desert for inspiration.

Science-fiction films and space travel are the stuff of little boys' dreams, and Walter Van Beirendonck, the vivid imagination behind The Wild and Lethal Trash label, has yet to grow up. His collection, "Welcome Little Stranger", included shiny black androgynous work clothes for the year 2000, worn by aliens from outer space - well, from a back-projected flying saucer at least.

Like Gaultier, Dries Van Noten, Yohji Yamamoto and Griffin, W&LT took a trip around the Far East and the Pacific Rim, with kaleidoscopic prints ranging from Hawaiian Hibiscus florals to exotic paisleys.

Jeff Griffin, whose label is manufactured in Manchester, based his collection around a people-watching session at the departure lounge of Bangkok airport. For the man who might spend as much time in a plane travelling from country to country as he does on the ground, there are clothes to suit all climates, in fabrics from towelling to lightweight linen ripstocks. There are also carefree sarongs and Thai trousers with griffin's signature hi-tech nylon jackets and army-style trousers.

Utility is the key factor in Griffin's clothing. And that is the secret of its success. The clothes that little boys' dreams are made of can take whatever form they like, just as long as they fit and flatter but, most important, function.

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