Miuccia Prada is one of the modern powerhouses of fashion. She is revered. She is inimitable. She is a leader of thought. She is also the family-named leader of one of the biggest luxury fashion brands in the world, a situation and circumstance that places her very much at the mercy of market forces and prevailing situations. Things are a bit different now than the beginning or even glory days of Prada. In the 90s and 00s, Prada collections indubitably led the fashion conversation and created trends. Miuccia Prada’s intellect and cutting smarts were assimilated by the fashion media, and disseminated to all.
Today, not so much. It’s nothing against Prada herself and itself, which remain very impressive and important institutions in the industry. Rather, it’s the simple fact and matter of a changing world that is distributing information in new and different ways; and in which the youth are collectively holding a grip over the cultural zeitgeist unlike the youth of before have ever been able to. It’s not just streetwear – it’s the fact that youth today have the access and ease of seeing into all of our collective histories and memories. They’re sophisticated. They’re terrifyingly cool. They’re also the ones who will inherit the money and the world.
The Deposito at Fondazione Prada, with seats by Verner Panton.
Prada is a difficult brand on many levels. On a creative, it’s challenging because Miuccia often provides obscure and opaque explanations for what she puts on the runway. What you see is never what you get, and to deconstruct, understand, and appreciate a Prada collection entails a fair amount of time and thought. It’s why I never feel comfortable delivering a judgment of her collections after first, second, or third viewing. Often, the intent of the clothes connect with a wider political stance of the world, or some sort of extropolatory tangent thereof of Miuccia’s. She is, after all a political science PhD holder. Anyway, it’s the kind of fashion that is worth repeated looks and analysis.
On another level, Prada is difficult because while you love it for being the former, it cannot fiscally survive by being that way. There is a dangerous prevailing mood for the shallow and insipid, and with it accompanying materialistic and consumptive product. It’s dangerous because it divorces fashion from any cultural implication – putting it into a purely plastic and surface realm. Still, fashion is a business of desire. If you don’t sell then forget it all.
In the past two years, I’ve gotten the distinct sense that Prada has been moving with serious intent to revitalise their business and put themselves into profitability again. Whether this was the momentous introduction of e-commerce, a wider celebrity red carpet presence, or straight up commercial collections – there’s a sense that the brand is moving to save itself.
It’s a tough line to toe, and I have to give it to Miuccia Prada – the woman’s made her brand more accessible while keeping its conceptual wits about it with enviable skill and shrewdness.
Perhaps the most immediately and visually identifiable hallmark of the brand is nylon. Mrs Prada is well aware of it, having made use of it to create her first hit product for the brand decades ago. Today, she is approaching the material differently. Nylon no longer has the kind of anti-luxury stigma attached to it, ruined as it were precisely because of what Prada showed in the 90s. Instead, the synthetic material seems to be used now as a creative counterpoint to natural materials, revelling in the distinctly man-made qualities of it. This was evoked by stiff satin pieces, used as shirts, shorts, skirts, coats, and jackets. Basically, it found its way into at least one piece of every category, and it became a shorthand for the psychotic and restricting confines of prettiness. The cycling shorts challenged the grain of athleisure, taking a trendy silhouette and turning it on its head by summoning stiffness rather than ease.
In another uncharacteristic move, Prada used conspicuous branding on its fashion. Its Fall/Winter 2018 collection saw the revival of the 90s sportswear Linea Rossa label. Now, the mainline triangle logo of the brand is making its appearance over a range of pieces. The Prada logo, fortunately, is fairly discrete. Thank god this brand doesn’t have a monogram to blatantly paste over product. Mrs Prada, I’m certain, has better sense anyway.
The Spring/Summer 2019 collection was a sure and certain amplification of all the Prada hits. Utility-inflected nylon, certainly. The 90s brand of minimalism as a reminder and reaffirmation of the designer’s handwriting. An unflinching penchant for challenging the norms of acceptable beauty. Desirable prints to throw on statement separates. A healthy dose of excess and drama. This last one came in short bursts – paillette dresses (a modern Miuccia signature), crystal-embroidery (Spring/Summer 2010), and a color palette ranging bravely dull browns (the doldrum palettes of the 90s) to acid greens. That last one demonstrated Prada’s contemporary colour sense, first evinced in Spring/Summer 2011’s primary colour baroques and later in Fall/Winter 2015’s spongy contrasts. There was, in short, interest enough to break up and emphasise a collection driven mostly by wearable and realistic clothing.
Speaking of acid green – this is a difficult shade that has been embraced quite lovingly by Miuccia Prada. In store designs, particularly; but this time also on the primary entry way of the Deposito show space in the Fondazione Prada complex. The industrial space was transformed by AMO (longtime set collaborators) into three sections designed to invoke industrialism and the classic plans of a theatre. It might be a slight commentary of the theatrical nature of a fashion show. A way of acknowledging the wide reaches of her work these days as entertainment and media. Runway shows, which used to be industry events, are now democratised – they’re no longer the province of the fashion media elite – they’re now a conversation people with internet connections are invited to join.
And so, we’re back at a quandary of simplifying for the masses. Last season’s blockbuster archive-revisiting collection was a massive success for the brand. Consumers lapped up things that came before. Is there a point fighting for the new when nostalgia sells? That’s surely a resistant idea for Prada, whose approach with her work has always been to subvert and propose. But if this collection is any indication, Prada wants to do more than survive. And with it, an initially uneasy but necessary change of direction. This is part of the curve, but if we are to be assured, Miuccia is undoubtedly behind the wheels.