Simply irresistible - except for the price
I went on a retreat last weekend and stayed at Plateau in the Grand Hyatt. In the streamlined tatami room, away from the clutter at home, I got myself thinking about simplicity. As it turns out, it is not such a simple subject after all.
With so many designers offering simplicity at a high price, why are we paying more for less? Is it really worth spending a fortune on a white shirt that you can get for the price of a burger?
Then the answer came on television, in a programme about the most stylish film stars in history. They were comparing Cary Grant and George Clooney - the former a legend who lived when men didn't wear clashing colours and patterns, over-accessorise or talk about meterosexuality. What Grant epitomised was a sophisticated masculine style that men around the world still aspire to: the smart suit, the crisp shirt, the trench coat and perfectly slicked-back hair.
In the Oceans series, Clooney, hailed as the modern Cary Grant, often wears a black or grey suit with a white shirt inside - always buttoned down but never creased. He does simplicity well and he also has the gaze to go with it.
The problem with simplicity is that many people confuse it with 'plain'. I know some men who pride themselves on being 'a simple guy', but it seems like an excuse for not thinking about how to dress. What they don't understand is one can dress simply without looking plain.
If these men are 'simple guys' with a sense of style, they should check out Bally's Tagutti duffel bag in perforated calf-skin leather with twill trimmings. There are only two colours but the contrast between the white leather and navy blue stripes represents the essence of masculinity - straightforward and uncomplicated. The man who appreciates this bag is one who doesn't need to make a fuss about anything, but gets everything right. Carry this with your jeans and weekend polo shirt and you won't have to make an effort to turn heads.
I am also delighted by Rupert Sanderson's debut men's Saddle O shoes, especially the nude body and red saddle design. Inspired by the iconic saddled oxfords common in the 50s, these preppy shoes promise the same comfort as trainers but with more grace and charm. Like the Bally duffel, they feature simple lines and colour combinations but they seize attention. Wear them with chinos or even dress shorts - if you have the legs. Ankle-high or no socks, please.
When it comes to clothing items, it's worth paying more because without complicated patterns and colour palette, your attention focuses on the workmanship and the fit. And it is important to experiment and discover the brands that fit you.
As for myself, I find that Paul Smith's silhouette complements my shape best. In his namesake ready-to-wear collection this season, the British designer has moved away from the slim silhouette and offers jackets in straight cuts, although the lines remain clean. I particularly love the black jacquard jacket with shawl collar and shorter length - it is quaint but contemporary, dapper but not conformist.
Short-length jackets are prevalent this season, which work for some men but can make life hard for others. Quite simply, if you are on the round side, they just make you look rounder - or 'like a bucket' as the Chinese like to say. If you have a lanky figure to support it, however, Jil Sander's combination of two-button white jacket with black straight-cut trousers and strappy white sandals is the epitome of chic in the simplest form.
Wearing all black is one way to embrace simplicity while looking slimmer, but even skinny people can benefit from wearing all black. It is the simplest way to achieve an edgy look. But it isn't as easy as many seem to think. There are certain shades of black that simply don't mix well. And without the right accessories, you could look like you work in hospitality.
It feels a little ironic that I am about to bring up Jean Paul Gaultier in this story about simplicity. But despite some pretty out-there ideas that are expected of this bad-boy designer (and no, I am not interested in wearing a tube top), his pr?t-a-porter homme collection also has a few styles that make good simple sense.
The combination of tight black T-shirt with 'upgraded track pants' starts with the basics, but cleverly adds an extra dimension with white stripes on the waist and the inside legs. The vertical stripes make the legs appear longer. With the matching belt featuring a striped belt buckle and black trainers with white laces, the geometric contrast keeps the eyes busy while adding to the camouflage effect.
If you have a good collection of white shirts but want another one with a different accent, Marc Jacobs Men's white cotton poplin slim button-front shirt with pen detail is ideal. Resembling a three-dimensional sketch, this shirt is for the simple guy who has not only a sense of style but also a sense of humour.
At the end I decided: simplicity doesn't simply come in one form. It can be classy, it can be wild and, in the case of Clooney, it can be pretty deadly.
Bally, Times Square, Causeway Bay, tel: 2506 3312.
Jean Paul Gaultier, Ocean Centre, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 3586 9628.
Jil Sander, Joyce, New World Tower, Queen's Road Central, tel: 2810 1120.
Marc Jacobs, The Landmark, Central, tel: 2523 3324.
Paul Smith, The Landmark, Central, tel: 2523 5868.
Rupert Sanderson, 8 On Lan Street, Central, tel: 2530 3391.