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The Miuccia-ness of Prada, the Gucci-ness of Tom Ford

Brand DNA is marketing speak until it isn’t, as the latest Prada and Tom Ford collections proved.
Prada Spring/Summer 2024.
Prada Spring/Summer 2024. (Prada)

MILAN — At the very end of the Prada show on Thursday, the audience witnessed one of those symbolic moments whose weight will only be truly felt with the passage of time. Fabio Zambernardi, who has been Miuccia Prada’s right hand for nigh on 30 years, entered stage left to take a public bow for the first time with Miuccia, along with her co-designer Raf Simons. Watching that moment, it was hard not to think that the collection we’d just seen wasn’t some kind of swan song to their years of creative collaboration. There was certainly enough of the sly, twisty, idiosyncratic, perversely glamorous essence of Prada to reinforce such speculation.

Bernard Herrmann’s soundtrack for “Vertigo” played while the models walked. That movie revolves around doppelgängers, alter egos and fractured psyches. The same themes were taken up in “It Follows,” the most intelligent horror movie of the past decade, a snippet of whose soundtrack followed shortly. The musical selections in a Raf Simons show always speak volumes. They did here as well, because the collection offered a splintered vision, not only past, present and future but also stark juxtapositions of hard and soft, masculine and feminine, light and dark, work and play. But those contrasts have always been fundamental to Prada, and it seemed only right that they should be celebrated in a collection that was a goodbye to the man who’d surely talked them through with Mrs. Prada a thousand times over the years.

The past certainly weighed in with the attention paid to Miuccia’s grandfather Mario, who founded the company in 1913, and whose questing bohemian curiosity inspired the eccentric detailing on this collection’s accessories. Mario’s early 20th-century artisanship was also the inspiration for the embroideries and decoration, the spirals of sequins, the constellations of beading, the gilded fringing and the grommets. But the toughness of the collection was also striking: sturdy worn barn jackets, patchworked black leather coats and dresses, broad-shouldered shirt jackets and tightly belted waists over rah-rah shorts. Pure film noir. In fact, the whole thing was extravagantly, evocatively cinematic in a way that Prada hasn’t been for a long while. Hey, that’s some way to say goodbye.

And then, on the other side of town, a hearty hello to Peter Hawkings, taking up the reins at Tom Ford. There’s no one better equipped for the job. Hawkings was Ford’s Fabio for 25 years, since Gucci days. He’s been running the men’s operation out of London, while Tom’s design team handled womenswear out of LA. That caused a disconnect, which Hawkings acknowledges as he comes to design womenswear for the first time. He’s as sharp as a tack. He sees the common sense in bringing the two closer together. A compatible couple. True, they haven’t been that recently. Ford’s man has always had snap, but his woman has edged flashy-trashy of late. On the evidence of the collection he showed on Thursday night, Hawkings’ remedy is a return to the days that made Tom great, the mid-late-90s when Gucci redefined glamour and sex and fashion devil-may-care.

That’s a challenge when you’re not genetically inclined to the disco loucheness that Ford so perfectly embodied in his partying prime. But proximity has clearly prepped Hawkings. He showed The Velvet Suit (“We own velvet,” he crowed), a fishnet dress and a series of languidly second-skin floor draggers with a hedonistic indolence you might imagine reflected Ford’s own temperament. Then again, you might be wrong, although the spirit of Carine Roitfeld inserted itself with the second look, a long jersey sheath clasped by a low-slung buckle. Roitfeld styled Mario Testino’s ad campaigns for Ford’s Gucci and, in the process, created some of the defining images of the era. “We were all influenced by her,” Hawkings says. When he says “all,” he surely includes Whitney Bromberg, the woman he met 25 years ago when they both started work at Gucci. They eventually married, she went on to become Ford’s SVP of communications. You can sense she’s his sounding board. “I’ve had to reboot a lot with regard to make and comfort,” he acknowledges.

Hawkings’ lasting contribution to the Ford canon will probably be the fiercely trim, tailored womenswear silhouette which walks arm in arm with his menswear. Leaving the show space, I ran into a couple of Italian fashion mavens who were in a state of bliss. “Tom’s back,” they marvelled. However Hawkings feels about that — big shoes, etc. — it’s clearly a position that has needed filling.

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About the author
Tim Blanks
Tim Blanks

Tim Blanks is Editor-at-Large at The Business of Fashion. He is based in London and covers designers, fashion weeks and fashion’s creative class.

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