For her most recent fall/winter men’s wear show, Miuccia Prada eschewed a dramatic, spectacular set, presenting her collection instead in an environment that recalled a dorm room, with beds and low tiled walls decorated with images that looked cut from a magazine. The clothes, too, were understated and unfussy: hand-woven sweaters, trench coats in tweed and suede, corduroy slacks, brown blazers. Backstage, Prada talked about intimacy, about the idea of going from big to small: from ‘‘the big deal of fashion, the big deal of art, the big deal of everything — to the opposite.’’
One of fashion’s foremost thinkers and bravest aesthetes, particularly when it comes to masculine attire — a few seasons ago, she dressed men as bedazzled golfers in cartoon-print berets and rhinestone cleats — had pointedly ditched outré design and focused instead on the humble, the simple, even the ho-hum. And Prada wasn’t alone: The rise of the unremarkable is the most newsworthy story of the men’s wear season. In Paris and Milan, designers shrugged off the extraneous and the extreme and reined in their aesthetics, focusing on the functionality of the clothes.
Men’s wear has long tended to be quieter than women’s, of course. Since the late 18th century and the so-called great masculine renunciation, when men jettisoned jabots, brocades and embroidery in favor of somber wool suiting, men’s clothing has been generally less flamboyant than its female counterpart. Two revolutions — the Industrial and the French — made an idle, indulgent, aristocratic life considerably less desirable than it had formerly seemed. High fashion remained an arena where peacocks could flourish, and at certain labels, they still do. But more and more, high fashion follows the world’s general mood and collective cultural shifts — so it’s no surprise that designers find themselves drawn toward the plainer, simpler and more everyday. ‘‘Human,’’ ‘‘simple,’’ ‘‘real,’’ as Prada put it.
The turnaround has been best epitomized by the recent shift in Demna Gvasalia’s collections for Balenciaga. For spring 2017, he referenced priests, popes and Mafiosi, with silhouettes tugged tourniquet-tight or jutting boldly out, and bright-colored jackets cut from the same damask that covers walls at the Vatican, falling from wide, angular shoulders of linebacker width. It was a lot of look. For winter, an abrupt volte-face: sweatshirts, jeans, hoodies and loose, workaday suits, in fabrics made to hang easily around the body. Gvasalia was inspired by corporate dress, he said, by the reality of what men wear every day. There were even a few looks with a new Balenciaga logo, clearly based on the wave motif of Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.