Simone de Beauvoir once said that one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. Can the same be applied to both genders? The men's fashion weeks in London, Milan, and Paris seem to have come up with the answer.
Realness, the art of blending in, originated in the 1980s New York underground scene where clubgoers, mostly unemployed poor members of the gay community, competed during balls in how authentically they could transform themselves into veteran officers or rich people from "Dallas," the TV soap.
The pure essence of this sort of dressing up is making its comeback in the upcoming season, thanks to designers' continuing obsession with uniforms of all sorts that carry the standard models of men's (and women's) roles.
Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy
Army references on the runway come naturally, given the present geopolitical situation, but designers got creative bringing them to life. Bomber jackets, cargo trousers and backpacks are still big this season, but at Moschino, the camouflage pattern worn by beefy models was created out of roses or renaissance frescoes, for instance, giving the theme a romantic twist.
Hyped London brand KTZ adorned paratrooper outfits with fastened corsets instead of belts and cleverly transformed bullet strips into arrangements that resembled a delicate web of lace, adding a strong feminine feeling to what could have been a macho parade.
The ultimate uniform of them all - the men's business suit - was, however, the center of attention this time. Plenty of sartorial brands in London and Milan focused on traditional, yet stylish attires, but many designers proposed a more fashionable look.
Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga has gone for the look of the class that emerged in the early 1990s in post-Soviet countries: he paired oversized, ill-fitting jackets and trousers with sporty sneakers or puffy vests with striped shirts and sweatshirts with repurposed logos. It's a look of desperation and hope at the same time; an identity put together from scraps but with the unwavering attitude that tomorrow will bring a better day.
Gvasalia wasn't the only designer to go corporate. Francesco Risso's debut for Marni was an exercise in elegance and primitivism, a collage of a man who is half yuppie, half hunter-gatherer, who wears suits decorated with bits of (faux) fur.
Revolution starts at home
Realness and reality met at the Prada show when Miuccia Prada unveiled a collection that was almost undesigned, or as she said, "at the edge of generic."
The first look consisted of a blue shirt, a grey, V-neck pullover, brown, belted corduroy trousers and understated burgundy derby lace-ups. What followed was a radical vision of normality, as seen on university campuses in the 1970s.
It's no surprise many designers went for a similar look this season. The university environment has become a battlefield of its own recently, where liberal ideas and intellectual debate meet extremism and uncontrolled feelings. Be it Prada and Missoni in Milan or Valentino in Paris, all these names seem to be attracted to the genius of the place where the fights for the universal rights spring up.
Overall, fashion can't get enough of the "ordinary man," as weird as it may sound. The accentuation of normal, homey, everyday and even daddy-esque borders on adoration this season.
These values were articulated exceptionally well by Christophe Lemaire, Hussein Chalayan and Loewe in their respective collections that focused on humble revisions of workwear.
While it may seem fashion will be unconventionally down-to-earth for the next autumn and winter, there are still designers such as Wales Bonner, the rising star of the London fashion scene, who prefer to dream.
Bonner is fully devoted to her African roots, and her fall/winter collection is almost a spiritual adventure. Coats in the Prince of Wales check juxtaposed with leather sandals, creased shirts and prolonged buttoned jackets strongly emphasized tradition, even though they defied a fixture in space and time.
The trend of nostalgia and romanticism coming from London was adamant this season. Many young debuting designers opted for themes such as male vulnerability and inner worlds, while established personas such as J. W. Anderson dip into childhood memories.
Models on his runway almost disappeared under layers of large, chunky sweaters and wool coats that appeared to be stolen from their fathers' wardrobes.
Man about town
The spring/summer 2017 season was dubbed one of the weakest in the recent history of menswear by most journalists and buyers, due to rather mundane aesthetics, repetitive trends and a lack of innovation.
Fall and winter collections were not that different: commercial appeal speaks louder than ideas. Yet somehow, designers managed to remake normal into desirable, and the many identities of a man into standards.
Although such ideas may seem far-fetched to someone not even remotely interested in "designer fashion," it's this type of clothing that will be easy to translate for the masses and will eventually end up in millions of wardrobes.
Think back to Simone de Beauvoir's saying at the beginning, that one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. Can the same be applied to both genders? But then, what makes a man? Maybe, as the saying goes, it really is the clothes.