Visualise, if you will, a line of people waiting to board a ski-lift at Val d'Isere - stylishly dressed, brightly coloured, chic. Now visualise a typical group of divers queuing to board an Egyptian day-boat. I think you've guessed what I'm getting at. Why is it that, when it comes to style, we usually have more in common with those sad folk who hang around the perimeter roads of airports, noting down the registration number of every 767 that thunders overhead, than with those participating in other expensive activities such as ski-ing, golfing, yachting or even surfing? Is it because scuba-diving attracts the visually unaware? People for whom the privacy afforded under water becomes a comfortable barrier to the public gaze? As a photographer I am acutely aware that very few people casually encountered during a dive will enhance my photographs by being included. Is it because, in paying your dues during training by changing behind the Cortina in the car-park, baring all to the world while avoiding the dog faeces, any vestige of self-regard, of care for one's appearance, is lost? In France, Yves St Laurent may be the epitome of sartorial elegance and Beuchat a well-known manufacturer of dive gear, but don't assume that French divers have more style than we do. They are worse than any Brit. A typical French diver sports a beard because he lost his razor. He scorns the use of a dive-bag when any old hemp sack will do. He checks that his regulator is working by blowing Gitanes smoke into it, and as for a suit... well, nothing but black, worn out at the knees, feels right. So when Beuchat sent me a wetsuit to try, I wasn't expecting too much. The Beuchat Focea is a one-piece 5mm suit with a rear zip. I asked French friends what significance there was to the name. The best they could come up with was that La Focea was the name of the luxury yacht formerly owned by a Mitterand minister who exchanged a distinguished career in government for an extinguished career in gaol. However, an Englishman living in France was able to tell me that Focea was the name of an ancient Greek outpost located at what later became Marseilles, where Beuchat is based. The Beuchat Focea is augmented by either a 2mm undervest, with or without hood, or a 5mm shortie (with hood) that is worn over it. You could wear both. There is very little science to it. You simply don the appropriate number of layers to suit how cold you feel. There are soft rubber knee-pads and the limb sections are contoured. This is a true wetsuit and there are no seals to speak of. It seems well enough constructed. When will wetsuit designers understand that what I want is a suit with 10mm of neoprene at the chest and biceps, physically nipped-in at the waist with 2mm neoprene, and with a contoured six-pack effect over the stomach? The Beuchat Focea uses clever visual tricks to make the wearer look slimmer and more shapely. Panels of neoprene in blue, black and shades of grey are set one against the other for full effect, with a nipped-in-waist, a broad chest and bulging biceps. I looked forward to acting the handsome cat at the dive-site. Instead, I relived an early experience that once occurred in the cramped rear quarters of a little dive-store in Fulham Palace Road. I was eventually found, blindly stumbling among the packing cases, half-in and half-out of a too-tight suit, sweating profusely and yelling in muffled tones: 'Will someone get me out of this!' The crisis of trying on a tight-fitting garment in an inappropriate setting is enough to make us dismiss any visual shortcomings. A suit that fits is good enough. The Focea sent proved uncomfortably tight for me, so you will just have to be content with a 'test-at-the-desk', in the style that certain other magazines seem to consider acceptable. The Beuchat Focea is available off-the-peg. It costs from £166 (7mm) or £137 (5mm). The shortie vest and hood costs £85.
Polar Bears 01566 773654, www.polarbears.co.uk or www.beuchat.fr
+ Visual trickery can make a diver look superficially good