PARIS — “I’d call myself the No. 1 client,” John Galliano declared in unveiling his first signature men’s wear collection, which blends the look of a Latin lover with the athleticism of a boxer and the designer’s streetwise aesthetic. “It’s very Romany, gypsy, romantic. I think a lot of my mates would wear it.”

Not to mention Christian Dior president Sidney Toledano, DJ Jeremy Healy or soccer deity David Beckham, whom Galliano rattled off as potential clients for his bias-cut suits, striped shirts, lustrous trenchcoats and slouchy cowboy jeans.

Arriving almost 20 years after the launch of his women’s collection, Galliano’s men’s wear elaborates on the lighthearted romance that has become the watchword of his label. Indeed, in a classy update on those kitschy men’s neckties that are conservative on the outside, but shelter naked-lady pinups inside, Galliano cunningly incorporates lingerie details from his women’s line into classic men’s garments.

Instead of buttons finishing off a jacket sleeve, Galliano puts a hook-and-eye closure that, unfastened, reveals corset-like lacing. Even a macho tank top has a strip of lace peeking out from the edges — but only on the inside, worn next to the skin. “Only you and your girlfriend will know,” Galliano said with a sly grin. “It’s a little cheeky.”

Yet the designer also brings to men’s wear his acclaimed talent for innovative cutting, evident in jeans that are cut in bowlegged fashion for a “very James Dean stance” and “soldier trousers” that he vows “make you look taller.”

And Galliano — famed for his bias-cut evening dresses — might be the first major designer to employ the technique in men’s suits. He describes one in black silk satin crepe as the type one could comfortably wear on the dance floor of a disco. “You feel like you’re wearing a cardigan. It’s super sexy,” he said. “It’s really just knocking all the stuffing out of tailoring.”

Although he’s poured most of his energies in recent years into Christian Dior couture and rtw and his signature women’s line, Galliano earned a reputation for men’s wear while still a student at the London fashion school Central Saint Martins, showing some looks for men as part of his groundbreaking graduation show in 1984.Given the absence of a men’s line of his own, Galliano said he has been wearing “a lot of Dolce & Gabbana and Levi’s,” plus bohemian pieces he picks up in Los Angeles, like the gauzy red surfer top he wore for the interview.

A fearless fashion chameleon, Galliano has taken his runway bows in everything from a top hat and tails to bullfighting pants, his chest bared and glistening. Once, in the spirit of the “Fight Club” styles for women tramping down on the runway, he came out in a boxing robe and black-eye makeup.

Many pieces in the collection are loaded with similar bravura, such as the elaborately embroidered toreador tracksuit — “matador meets Adidas,” Galliano calls it — or see-through shirts printed with strips of lace.

But Galliano’s collection also includes classic two-button pinstripe suits, white shirts, detailed V-neck sweaters and even neckties. “Someone asked me, ‘Do you even wear ties, John?’ I said, ‘Yes, I do, but not around my neck,’” he said with a laugh, hoisting the hem of his top to show one threaded through the waistband of his low-slung jeans, à la school boys at Eton.

If there’s anything uncharacteristic about the Galliano men’s line, it’s the whisper-quiet launch.

Buyers began arriving Sunday afternoon at a temporary showroom on Avenue Gabriel to write orders, but Galliano opted to invite only a handful of editors to see the line by individual appointment. The designer assembled dozens of outfits for a look book — all styled with bare chests and askew hats — but the house won’t release any full-length photos until later this year. “It’s a way for me to test the market, to see what people are expecting from Galliano,” he said.

Galliano president Valerie Hermann declined to give sales projections, but said she expects the spring-summer 2004 collection to debut in between 60 and 70 specialty stores worldwide. “He brings something new to the market,” she asserted.

Retail prices are at the high end of designer men’s collections, ranging from about $200 for knitwear pieces up to $2,485 for a lace-pinstripe jacket or $4,590 for a leather trenchcoat.Hermann said she expects men’s wear sales will ultimately add up to between 35 and 50 percent of the women’s business. Sales at John Galliano reached $29.7 million last year, as reported.

Galliano just opened his first flagship, on Rue Saint Honore in Paris, to house a growing product range that spans handbags, small leather goods, footwear, eyewear and lingerie. The new men’s wear will ultimately require its own retail showcase, the designer noted. A full runway presentation in Paris is expected during the next men’s fashion week, in January.

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