Who would have thought that the good looking stranger my girlfriend and I came across on a warm summer night in the Meat Packing District- before the locale became a fad-was a fashionista. When this slightly older gentleman offered to take a picture of us and said that he was in town for a photo shoot for the September issue of Esquire magazine, we didn't quite believe him but figured he was cool enough to hang with us anyway.

It so happened to be that our new pal Randy Candler had just won Esquire's San Fran search for the Best Dressed Real Man in America contest. The San Francisco Chronicle described Randy's winning attire as a "muted moss-green and brown plaid sport coat by Oxxford, dark brown pants, a vest, classic blue shirt and orange silk diamond pattern tie by Kiton." The Bay Area res was chosen as one of the top five finalists in the country and won a trip to the Big Apple.

For this handsome 49-years young world traveler and designer salesman, men's fashion is "all about passion. Sadly, many men have become a bit lazy when it comes to style. I try to inspire men to care about their personal sense of style, no matter the budget," says Candler.

We caught up with the Ran Can Can during his last visit to the NYC where he and four other contestants waited to hear who of the five was to be crowned Esquire's "Best Dressed Real Man in America" on the Today show. Unfortunately, our guy didn't win- but here's what he thinks about life after the contest...

Mercedes Sanchez: What's the best thing about having entered the contest? Randy Candler: Two trips to New York City, Esquire Magazine and local news interviews.

MS: Has anything weird happened since entering the contest? RC: A fan- there is one- reached me by letter with praise, props, and a horrible grasp of the English language. "Chicks dig that ambiant style" was one of the gems. He was from the good old USA and ended with a call for me to help with fashion advice. I thought some writing advice might serve him better.

MS: Any advice for men? RC: Separate yourself a bit from the herd. Don't be afraid to do some things different. If people have comments about what you are wearing the best retort is "Well, I like it!" Women like it when a man cares about style, believe me. Just don't take more time or energy on your look than they do on their look.

MS: What would you tell women who wished their boyfriends dressed better? RC: Old adage says that if you push a string, it will go nowhere, but if you pull it, it will follow you anywhere. If a man needs help, offer it but don't push him. He may not want to go there. Don't forget that there are many of us in the industry who get paid to advise.

MS: You've practically traveled the world! What's your next adventure? RC: When I got involved with Esquire's competition, I thought "How can I inspire men to start dressing better?" Well, every girl's crazy bout a sharp dressed man, so my Web site is called "A Sharp Dressed man.com". I hope to have the site up and running in early 2007. Oh, a trip back to Naples, Italy and Barcelona, Spain should happen this year.

MS: What's an absolute must-have that should be in every man's closet: RC: A great sportcoat, whether it is a classic navy blazer, a black coat, or something more interesting like a plaid, a window pane, or tweed. You can put a sportcoat with cords, wool pants, or ever jeans.

To get a one on one fashion tip from Randy Candler, visit him at work. Wilkes Bashford 375 Sutter Street between Second & New Montgomery streets. San Francisco, Cali

candler.jpg *ms (photo courtesy of Esquire Magazine)