AP Fashion Writer
PARIS (AP) - Day Four of Paris menswear shows had one overriding message: We're tastefully playing it safe.
Fashion collections at this time of year are often about anticipating summer and celebrating color.
But in Saturday's strong line-up of shows there was a clear emphasis on hues that tended towards the muted and soft.
Subtle shows from Kenzo and Hermes featured wide-ranging and inventive palettes, but it was tonal balance that was the key.
Dazzling color, prominently in previous seasons, appeared only momentarily: like the red splashes in Kris Van Assche's Dior Homme show.
Could this spell the return to elegance for menswear?
Sunday, the last day of Paris menswear week includes shows by Pierre Cardin, Lanvin and Paul Smith.
Kenzo understands color.
The designers travelled to the South Asian jungle _ to return with a strong and subtly vivid collection.
"We were inspired by a trip to Thailand last year," said one half of the design duo, Humberto Leon.
Down the catwalk trekked bright camouflage prints, deer-stalker hats and even canteens with a harness to stay hydrated.
"I wanted to give people a survival kit: everything they might need if they were stranded in the jungle," added Leon.
But the flirtation with the tropics was just the far-flung concept.
The true strength of the show lay with its grounded and subtle working of tonal color _ a trick that few designers manage to grasp.
Fitted short-sleeved shirts with rolled sleeves and wide Asian-style deep-pleated pants came in yellow, blue and orange.
But the clothes' color was muted, not primary: a careful effect produced by carefully dying material to an exactly matching tonal strength.
The rare result was comfortable harmony.
It invoked founder Kenzo Takada's key philosophy: Clothes should be wearable.
Flashes of vivid color occasionally punctuated the muted palette.
On their sophomore outing in menswear, Leon and his design partner Carol Lim passed with flying colors.
Hermes' Veronique Nichanian knows how to dress men.
The house's show, set in a storied 18th century stone cloister, was a devastatingly elegant affair.
The venue raised expectations that _ luckily _ weren't dashed by Nichanian's highly accomplished and colorful display.
Sexy fitted suits _ single and double breasted _ emphasized the shoulders but remained soft and unangular.
Meanwhile, high-waisted long-legged 1950s pants created a highly masculine silhouette.
Fashion is all about making statements.
Some designers are so busy trying to say something catchy that they forget the aesthetic.
Here, this was not the case.
There was an emphasis on pure luxury: be it soft suede, silk or tuxedos with peaked lapels in mohair.
In color, the elegance translated as a palette _ terre vert, soft yellow, beige, and soft russet _ that was wide-ranging but remained tonal and non-garish.
In case there was any doubt as to the masculine credentials of the show, sporty details like white sneakers, hoods, zippers and draw-strings brought home that this was all soft, but highly virile.
What is the enduring secret for Hermes _ one of 2011's most lucrative fashion brands?
As far as menswear goes, for Nichanian, it's simple: "I don't have any secrets. I just love men."
Dior Homme marched a tailored naval troop down the runway in a play-it-safe show, banishing black and channeled Royal Navy blue.
On Saturday, models with severe slicked back hair in fitted blazers of light-weight wools and Prince of Wales check set the strict, conservative tone.
Indeed, there was nothing revolutionary here.
Designer Kris Van Assche's approach follows the philosophy: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
He reworked many ideas from last season's much lauded show: marrying tailored military uniforms and sportswear.
If Van Assche's aim was to create a salable, gentle evolution in his style, he succeeded.
"It's my first show where there is no black, blue is the new way of doing black," said Van Assche.
The show's other new element was its assault of buttons: silver buttons, black buttons _ all engraved with Christian Dior's coat of arms.
Dior Homme's fitted, short silhouette bucked this season's look of elongated and oversized form.
"I've noticed clothes can be fitted and comfortable at the same time," added Van Assche. "It's not about doing ballooning volumes."
At which point an incredibly skinny Sharon Stone came to give him a kiss.
When you're as influential as Dior, you don't need to follow trends.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at http://Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP
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