Act casual, chaps, and keep your cool

THIS autumn, the fashion message for men is tres simple : chill out, fellas. No one has to be a fashion slave. And no one has to toss out his wardrobe to look with-it.

Add a vest, a bomber jacket or a half-coat for those chilly trips to Beijing, say a handful of designers, who realise the grunge look will never replace Savile Row in the boardroom.

While CEOs may not be ready or willing for a Versace colour fix at the annual shareholders' meeting, there is room for improvement in the casual wear.

''Some Hong Kong men are well-dressed. But a lot of them still have an old mind,'' believes Eldy Pang. ''They spend a lot on a tailored suit to show off their 'high-class look'. But they consider anything trendy or casual not a good investment. They dress pretty dull.'' Pang hopes to change the mind-set with a loose-cut, cotton or linen jacket in earthy tones worn over worker jeans.

For inspiration, another designer looks to the classics. ''This is my third year doing the bomber jacket. But why not? It's a classic,'' says Mickey Lee.

This year he has updated it by changing the fabric to fit Hong Kong's climate and lifestyle.

''Since the weather isn't cold, I've used a quilted nylon twill [a combination of nylon and cotton] in black. Black is always a saleable colour and it goes great with denim.'' Twill also travels well, a factor important to his clients. ''Travellers need something light, but warm, especially businessmen going to China.'' His unisex bomber jacket features a thick front zipper, ribbed collar and cuffs. Pockets are zippered or flap style. ''I prefer zippered ones,'' continues Lee. ''Since men don't carry hand-bags, you can put keys, wallets and small items in there and feelsafe. '' The retail range of the jacket for Puma is between $450 to $500.

Benjamin Pun agrees with Eldy Pang. ''Most business executives are more interested in international designer labels like Armani, something that is expensive and recognisable.

''The market is better for women here than men. Women have more choice because there are more designers catering to the younger customers who are not ultra-rich.'' His best bet for autumn is the half-coat. ''Many customers do business in China and Shanghai and Beijing are also my markets.'' His half-coat in leather features a detachable draw-string hood with fur trim.

''Mainlanders like a longer length and a looser fit in browns or black.'' He uses lamb nappa which gives a smooth, shiny surface that's easy to clean.

The diagonal stitched pockets allow room for the wearer's hands, he explained. The hip pockets for a cellular phone. The upper lining is of quilted satin-like material, the lower half in flannel. ''It's always a hot gift, especially during Chinese New Year. [Hong Kong] businessmen give it to their partners in China.'' Pun's jacket retails between $3,500 to $4,000.

Leo Yeung offers a vest indigo blue. ''My vest is worn as a jacket, the inside-out look.'' The fabric can be leather, cotton knit or a combination of nylon/knit. Colour is introduced on the back with knitted patchwork patterns or words displayed in a variety of typefaces - ''graffiti for the back''.

''It's a casual look, very eye-catching, if you co-ordinate it well.'' His vest for the Gavin label retails for around $400 for nylon/woven knit and $2,000 for leather.

Designer Patrick Lung has worked for years in Italy where colour is as understood and celebrated as regional pasta shapes. ''The Italian mentality is colourful, more cheerful than here, so they wear lots of colour,'' explains Lung.

Lung is hopeful. The risks taken by young people in casualwear are changing the fashion look slowly. ''Maybe our skin tone can't take yellow the way the Italians wear it. They're much darker.

''But Chinese should try lighter, brighter shades instead of sticking to black and grey.'' Though Lung admits he owns many coloured clothes, before he wears them on the street, he tones down the colour by washing them several times.

''Maybe we'll never see a lime-coloured suit here, but why not a lime-coloured shirt under one of those conservative suits?''