Style police: Cred men don't wear plaid

Kilts went from risque to passe without ever being cool, despite Gaultier's efforts. James Sherwood reports

You may think catalogue shopping is to fashion what TV dinners are to cordon bleu cuisine. If so, you'll be surprised to hear that the Empire catalogue has recruited zat naughty French souffle Jean-Paul Gaultier to design a capsule collection for Summer 97. You'd no more expect to see Gaultier in a catalogue than a Hockney hanging in a transport cafe. But for the catalogue snobs among us, it may come as a shock to learn that designers have been in catalogues more often than Liz Taylor has been in casualty.

Instead of the usual fodder (towelling track suits and moccasin slippers), Jean-Paul has brought PVC jeans, techno-print T-shirts and crisp white shirts to Empire. The star piece in JPG by Gaultier is an old Jean-Paul favourite: the unisex mini-kilt, as worn by Gaultier on Channel 4's Eurotrash. The mini-kilt must rank with thongs (were you paying attention last week?) and sarongs as male fashion problem pieces. Without the right shoes, good legs and bravery, the wearer of the mini-kilt will inevitably look more Minnie Mouse than Marcus Schenkenberg.

An exception is Edinburgh-based past Hairdresser of the Year George Patterson, who has worn the mini-kilt for years. "I had a Scottish designer make up a version of the Gaultier kilt: short, pleated and in heavy grey fabric," says Patterson.

Gaultier is not the only designer to try to get men into skirts. Vivienne Westwood had a highland fling seasons ago and has designed her own officially recognised Westwood tartan. Alexander McQueen's "Highland Rape" collection was, apparently, an ironic comment on Westwood's obsession with Scotland. But, unlike Westwood and McQueen, Gaultier is the only designer who consistently includes skirt separates in his menswear collections; be they tartan, leather or leopard skin. "This season, Jean-Paul was influenced by Asian fashion, so there are more sarongs and wrap skirts in stock," says Kieran Dorgan, manager of London's Galleria Gaultier. "The kilt will always be a signature piece. I suppose it started as a gay thing to wear kilts in the clubs, but that is not the case now."

You'd expect the mini to be for none but the brave and young. "Not so," says Dorgan. "Our customers have grown-up with Jean-Paul. This summer, 30 to 40-year-old men are buying kilts and sarongs. Our Indian embroidered multi-stripe kilt at pounds 395, is the only one we have left. Let me tell you, these are very straight men you wouldn't poke fun at in a pub." At pounds 85 for Gaultier catalogue mini-kilt, Style Police predicts a summer of men in skirts.

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