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Surreal Times at Prada — And in Fashion

There was more of a symbiosis in this men’s collection than was evident in Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons’ first outing together for womenswear.
Prada Men's Autumn/Winter 2021. Prada.
Prada Men's Autumn/Winter 2021. Prada.

The invitation arrives in a little fluffy cloud of pink fake fur. Inside, there is, among other treats, a box of marrons glacés. It feels like something you’d send to Jean Harlow. Quite the surreal entrée to the first men’s collection that Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons have worked on together. Still, it feels oddly appropriate for such surreal times in fashion. Once again, we’re gathered round screens, not runways, to view the virtual presentation of a new season. The physicality of fashion is still on hiatus.

Miuccia didn’t seem too fussed about that during the post-show press conference. The idea of offering something that the entire world has simultaneous access to appealed to her innate socialism. “It’s giving importance to all people,” she said, “no longer just a restricted group.” She imagined that it would be necessary to hang on to this development “when we go back to physical shows.”

In the meantime, we had the virtuality of Prada Autumn/Winter 2021 to be going on with. The collection was called “Possible Feelings.” Miuccia and Raf were keen that there was no narrative connotation. Instead, they wanted to emphasise an emotional response to a world that has been driven inwards by the pandemic. So the show space was organised as a series of environments walled in fake fur, resin, marble, plaster, different textures, hard and soft, sensual and chilly, no flow between them so the space was deliberately abstract. Not inside, not outside.

The collection matched. Raf said the duo’s early discussions revolved around finding an item that could represent the body, “to symbolise everything we’re feeling right now.” Vulnerability. Resilience. A hunger for intimacy. They settled on a bodysuit. Every single look was built on one, in all kinds of knit, jacquard, mohair, jersey. Turtlenecked, crewnecked, v-necked. Call it long johns, or a union suit, or an all-in-one if you like, but boys to men, it could echo a kid in a playground or lockdown loungewear or a cowboy in a spaghetti western. Miuccia blanched at the latter association, but she acknowledged that it wasn’t often you could find something in fashion that was so flexible. “For me, it’s a good example of how you can express so much with one piece.”

There’s been talk of a new Roaring Twenties when the pandemic recedes, but neither designer felt such speculation was appropriate given the current grim scenario. “The moment of a creative renaissance is very far,” said Miuccia. “We have a very important sense of responsibility for the moment.” Raf added, “It’s not right to be exuberant.” Asked about the meaning of clothes, she tellingly referred to “the consolation of comfort.” And he mentioned a need for reduction. “The bodysuit represents the body, but other pieces are minimalised. We wanted a calmness in shape.”

So, with the bodysuit as building block, this meant hyper-lean tailoring (pinstripes, which Miuccia insisted she hated, till she succumbed to the power of her design partner’s persuasion) or oversized bomber jackets in re-nylon and leather or big coats in ice-blue and lilac bouclé, and glorious jacquard-lined parkas. In the moment, the proportions felt very Raf-adjacent, but if you remember he has always been an ardent Prada fanboy, you’d soon find yourself tracking back to Miuccia’s own re-conceptualisations of menswear. In other words, there was more of a symbiosis here than was evident in their first outing together for womenswear. It was clear in the colours. “We both love the juxtaposition of colour,” said Raf. “We wanted them to express warmth and sensibility.” When a voluminous leather bomber jacket in a shade of deep pink walked by, it was paired with orange gloves. Right there, that seemed like a shared sensibility because the clash was such a quintessential Yves Saint Laurent combination — and Miuccia and Raf love Yves.

Raf’s favourite Richie Hawtin (aka Plastikman) provided a soundtrack that spiralled into techno lyricism, borderline romance, which triggered visions of how both Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons have, within their own romantic parameters, defined the modern man. For her, it’s been the Achilles heel of vulnerability, especially in the face of her powerful women. For him, it’s been the transience of youth and beauty. Mix the two together, add a pandemic and you’ve got a recipe for...? You can take it from there.

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