Out come the peacocks

THE pin-striped blazer chosen for the shoot didn't fit South African model Robert Bester. Alas, that also blew the co-ordinated pants.

Never mind. The G.F. Benci cotton shirt and the Krizia silk twill tie were definitely usable. Add fresh top and bottoms and we were in business.

A single-breasted navy linen jacket by Alberto Biani for the New York label got the vote; boxy yet slim, subtly structured at the shoulders, discreet patch pockets and one of those collars midway between mandarin and Japanese schoolboy uniform.

A glance at the innards confirmed that the $2,450 price tag was merited; meticulously finished, with half-lining for summer comfort and seams edged in silk. As any pro will tell you, real tailoring means a garment that can be turned inside-out with pride.

The rest was a cinch. A clean colour match provided by straight-legged casual pants from Italy's Subway and a classic leather belt with chased metal clasp by Giorgio Armani.

Fantastic, said Robert, who decided to buy the Biani jacket after the shoot.

Is this the way the 90s man builds up his wardrobe? Clothes that are chosen with a sense of adventure and combined in ways that are personally pleasing, if at times unconventional? Joe Tong, operations manager and chief buyer for Hong Kong Seibu's menswear division, reckons it's the only way to go. In fact some might conclude he has it in for the diehards and label freaks.

''Apart from some in-store boutiques such as the one for Paul Smith, we don't have fashion corners in this department, not even for the biggest names,'' says the 31-year-old menswear boss.

''Instead, everything is grouped together for function. As you can see, all the jackets are in one section. Same for trousers, shirts, ties and the rest. To me, that's good fashion.'' Seibu's new season range is certainly in fashion. The Eastern influence, the big beige story, the unstructured suit, the decorative vest, the big shirt - all the hot looks for Spring-Summer 94 are represented by most of the fashion world's top labels, plus a lot of interesting, lesser-known ones. But will they sell? They had better, because the buck stops with him, says Tong.

''Apart from purchasing the merchandise, I'm also responsible for selling it. In fact I join the sales staff at weekends and serve customers myself.

''That way, I'm able to see first-hand what's moving well and what isn't, and why. Of course you also have to be alert to what a customer is really saying. 'That doesn't do anything for me' can mean 'How about knocking down the price?' '' He may not have carte blanche, but there's still plenty of leeway, says Tong.

''Because Seibu is more like a speciality store than a conventional department store, we concentrate on limited-quantity styles - just two or three pieces in some cases - and that makes my job very challenging.

''Basically, a third of what I buy conforms to store image, another third is determined by customer response and the rest is fashion. I enjoy that most. I can smell something that's fun.

''That doesn't mean crazy. Clothes must be functional and we're also careful to offer a wide price range. Good fashion doesn't have to be expensive.'' It's a winning formula, says Alan Bailey, the British fashion choreographer who did the recent Spring-Summer shows at Pacific Place and voted Seibu's menswear collection ''far and away the best'' in Hong Kong this season.

''It works because it tells a real fashion story - completely different from the usual boring racks of clothes which don't give any inspiration or direction.

''Making your head buyer responsible for sales and positioning his office on the selling floor is not just smart, but invaluable because otherwise, you're working blind.

''Often, that's the problem overseas. American buyers never step on the floor - not their job, they'd protest - and in both the US and Britain, department stores usually rely totally on their computer print-outs to gauge sales.

''They can be very misleading because they only give an overall picture. In London recently, a leading department store reported to me that women's swimwear was down by a horrifying 67 per cent. I happen to represent one of their labels, so I asked them to isolate the figures for it and guess what: we were performing right on target.

''That sort of thing goes on all the time. It's why a lot of retailing is screwed up.'' The son of a Savile Row tailor, Bailey is one of those rare fashion animals; savvy and creative, with lifelong experience of the ragtrade to back up his instincts. How does he rate the current scene? ''Nothing short of a revolution. It began with Armani, the great initiator, and sort of crept in, but 1994 can definitely be called the Year of the Man.

''Today, nobody with a sense of style is wearing that total, one-label look. You take items that you know will work for you and this season you can truly be what you want to be.

''In many ways, it's a revival of the 60s, but there's also plenty that's new. Those great desert colours, the incredible new linens and raw silks, the emphasis on texture, detail and shape - it's such a bold statement.

''You can wear an unstructured suit or one of the new loose shirts over pants and still look fine for the office. In casualwear, jeans have finally lost their dominance - much more liberating to wear drawstring pants and a loose-weave top - and even that classic denim blue is being overtaken by a new indigo.

''There's no question about it. Men are peacocks again.''