Currently, affairs are tumultuous, to say the least. International markets stumble; European borders slam closed; turmoil bubbles. It’s foolish to think fashion exists in an isolated cocoon, or an ivory tower, ignoring the world outside its rarefied sphere. At base, it’s foolish because these things—economic sanctions, falling stock, stymied global movement—affect the buying patterns of even the world’s richest. No one is wealthy enough to be insulated from the rest of humanity. On another level, an intelligent, intuitive fashion designer naturally seeks to make work that represents the time in which they live, and contributes to a wider cultural landscape. They’re part of the conversation of their times. What touches more people than the clothing on their backs?
That’s how Miuccia Prada operates. For one of the most willful, singularly talented, and individualistic designers working in fashion today, her output is marked not by her own whims but by a curiosity about other people, about the world she lives and works in. “That is what is really interesting,” says she. “What people relate to, what fascinates them, how the fusion of fashion and culture makes people react.” Miuccia Prada’s clothing is interesting because, at the end, she is interested in life, in her times, and in representing that through clothing.
Prada staged her Fall 2016 show in a complex, multilevel set designed to evoke, she said, “a square for ceremony—a gathering of the rich, the poor.” The ceremony she referenced was the “auto-da-fé,” the Spanish Inquisition’s public sentencing of heretics. It’s tempting to compare that to a designer’s experience of showing their work to critical masses, but Mrs. Prada had bigger fish to fry and larger concepts to engage with. “Immigration, famine, assassination, pessimism,” were words she threw out backstage, terms you seldom hear uttered in association with luxury clothing. Then, she grinned. “But I’m not a pessimist!”
She is, however, plugged in to the troubled times around her, and she allows them to influence her clothes. It’s how she elevates them above the masses of garments created by other designers, and ensures they say something significant and distinctive. For Fall, said clothes were torn, bedraggled, wrenched away from the body in a state of disarray, a visual representation of the uncertainty of the contemporary. Today is what interests Mrs. Prada, despite her frequent references to the past. (The latter were plentiful, in worn and aged fabrics, creased and mis-buttoned cotton shirting, battered canvas twill, knits fraying to yarn.) “It’s an excursion through history,” said Prada, surrounded by a set that collided classical colonnades with Ikea-y plywood, “connecting what’s happening now with what happened in history—to see if there’s anything we can learn.”
Excursion. That accounted for the flyaway aspect, clothing barely clinging to the models’ bodies, as if garments were literally shipwrecked around their torsos. Abstracted components—button-off collars, lapels and hoods anchored with flimsy drawstrings like sou’westers—evoked a sense of dynamism. And there were sailor hats. We were voyaging somewhere deep. Mrs. Prada employed the services of artist Christophe Chemin, a creative polymath who draws, directs, has authored four novels, and yet somehow found time to devise prints for Prada’s show. She compared those to maps, to underline the voyaging theme; Chemin himself allies his work to fashion, saying he “sews” together his ideas. It was like a creative exchange program, much like Mrs. Prada’s relationship between the then and there, and the here and now. “If you look at the past and today, you recognize many different similarities,” she said, allowing that the show was mixed to “try and feel ‘now.’ ”
Right now, let’s talk about the clothes: multilayered, multi-textured, at the core great outerwear, narrow suiting, good shoes, flood-length pants cut slightly wider in the leg, sailor-collar sweaters, cross-body knapsacks. They were pragmatic yet enigmatically attractive garments that will incite desire and excite consumers. But that feels a bit like talking about paint composition and canvas weave, rather than the picture someone important is trying to paint. What was Miuccia Prada trying to say about men today and the world in which we live?
Thinking back to that notion of immigration, and to the vulnerability of last season’s Prada boys, there was a notion this time of Prada’s males being survivors, living through adversity and emerging, if not unscathed, then battered but intact. 2015 was a hell of a year—for fashion, and the world in general, bookended with terrorist attacks in France, and with war erupting in-between. Living life means we bear the traces of its passage across us, and our passage through it.