MILAN, Italy — For all that it was a triumphant return to form, Miuccia Prada's menswear show in January turned out to be a mere appetiser for the deeper, richer women's collection she showed tonight. That was partly a reflection of her own feelings: "A woman is so much more complex than a man. She has to be a mother, a lover, a worker, a beauty..." But it was the way the clothes mirrored those multi-facets — and the emotional states that accompany them — that made the show a tour de force.
Longtime collaborator Frederic Sanchez’s soundtrack of female singers ran a full drenching gamut, from the fierceness of PJ Harvey, to the pain of Piaf to the chill anomie of Nico, by way of sterling accompaniment. Tears flowed backstage.
Her men were mariners, drifters. People on the move dominate the news. Prada's women were also wanderers, stateless, “vagabonds” she called them, roaming across different times and places, with their clothing functioning as a record of their journey.
Some had tiny, padlocked books slung round their necks like pendants. Travel diaries, perhaps? “A little bit of culture,” countered Miuccia. “Secrets, symbols.” Always playing the provocateuse, she claimed she herself had never written one single word in her entire life, but it was intriguing how words were used in this collection. There were six, each of them a month in the Republican Calendar introduced during the French Revolution.
Why? Because huge upheaval is in the air in fashion, and — because fashion is a mirror of the wider world — everywhere else too. What are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, after all, but a rejection of America’s political orthodoxy? By some lights, that amounts to revolution.
On her catwalk, Mrs P. offered her own vision of a polarised world: the powerful and the weak, the rich and the poor. A fur cape was duplicated seconds later in utilitarian cotton canvas. What looked like a surgical corset gripped a perfectly tailored coat. A brocade shirt was paired with a postcard skirt. Glimpses of Prada’s past were casually insinuated into the line-up, underscoring the idea that time and place are fluid.
Admittedly, a stylist’s hand could be detected in some of the more collaged looks, the combinations of high and low, but there were more than enough individual items that were rich with reference. When Mrs P. came across Berlin-based French artist Christophe Chemin, he’d coincidentally been working on a collage of the history of women. He was responsible for the paintings in a dozen styles — echoing Renaissance masters, Pop icons, movie poster art — that added an absorbing visual texture.
What I wrote after her men’s collection still stands, maybe more acutely than before. So why not just run it by you one more time? “Mrs Prada has always been a political animal, but her politics have rarely been obvious in her work (or should we call it her art?). Her faith in fashion is, however, something quite distinct. Watching her latest collection, one thought irresistibly asserted itself: clothes make memories, memories make history.”