Miuccia Prada makes the contrary covetable. With her eponymous brand, desire often lies on the knife-edge between the ugly and the beautiful, banality and eccentricity, tackiness and luxury, the idiosyncratic and the universal. This, her A/W18 offering, was no different – pooling from those tightrope-walking tropes of Prada’s past, it showcased the designer’s uncanny ability to riff on her own established codes and present them anew. But in the newly built Torre at the OMA-designed Fondazione Prada in Milan (the space is yet to open to the public) the designer pushed her trademark time travel to a new, more explicit place.
Guests flanked a swathe of black mirrored flooring in the new tower which loomed over the industrial landscape surrounding the museum. The night sky was studded with neon signage toting archive Prada symbols – bananas, monkeys hanging from the 1980s triangle logo – side-by-side with new additions – a dinosaur, a spider, a new Tron-like Prada logo. Together, they painted a Blade Runner-esque cityscape. The fusion of old and new was a metaphor for another paradox on Prada’s mind: the struggle in retaining both femininity and strength in today’s world. Prada spliced the split personalities together in a clean and clinical grafting, like a human ear onto a mouse’s back: tulle bows trailed out from oversized jumpers and even bigger padded and protective coats; sequin dresses came trussed up with lab coat ID tags and elasticated butchers’ boots; floral appliqué on prom dresses came in hi-vis hues. Mrs Prada explained backstage that she’d been exploring “the constant duality between what you have to be in order to be strong and able to protect yourself, and what we’ve inherited: the sweetness, the femininity”. We take a tour of her greatest hits and wonder what revisiting them means for the new Prada woman...
In revisiting the flaming wedges of her S/S12 collection, Mrs Prada shed these memorable patent heels of their former pastel prettiness. Set against a 50s drive-in diner scene, the original incarnation came in a palette of baby blue, lemon and vanilla. Feistier pairs in black and red, yellow and acid green, were prettified by rosette details, ruching, and rocket boosters that resembled lipsticks. This season saw streamlined, less ladylike versions in hazardous fluoros, blacks and blues, and sans all accoutrements – but the flames were unmistakable. In reimagining these heels, which already sat somewhere between tough and pretty, sweet and sour, Prada is draining her woman of all her softness. “For the strength of women going out in the violence,” she explained backstage. “My dream is for women to be able to go out in the street and not be afraid. I wanted to have the freedom exaggerated.”
For her A/W18 men’s offering, Prada revisited the bountiful banana print of S/S11 fame – it appeared on one shirt only at the recent men’s show but was a hint at things to come (as were the lab workers’ ID tags – resonant of sci-fi films and dissection, a code for the Frankensteinian experiments going on here). Said shirt appeared amid other archive womenswear prints, many of which were diced and spliced together: formica table-top patterning and lilac-brown striping à la S/S96 “ugly chic” collection; the lipstick print of S/S00; those same licking flames from S/S12. Undoubtedly some of her greatest hits. Those bananas reappeared here, but not in their original sketched print. Instead they were stamped onto handbags in sharp, slot machine shapes, as were the clambering monkeys of the same collection. Here, in neon lights and hazard-sign symbols they were free of their hand-drawn quality: tougher, more alien.
It was logos a-go-go, and no wonder: they’re everywhere this season. Naturally Mrs Prada would amplify the trend. There were three sets: a brand new swooshing cyberworld P (it came with its own animated emoji for those at the Fondazione); the sporty red strip resurrected from the 90s Sport collection and writ large across clothing and sunglasses; the 90s triangle, typically welded to the iconic black nylon backpack but recycled here and stamped directly onto clothing: bustiers, pop socks and coat pockets. Prada has always channelled her own inner contradictions; a self-proclaimed conflicted feminist, as a student Prada famously attended socialist marches wearing head-to-toe Yves Saint Laurent. With this branding overdose she asks us to confront our commercial thirst, making each version more covetable in the process.
Mrs Prada has long employed the precarious glitz of sequins; they typically come in overblown proportions, whether as an oversized paillette or gobstopper-sized appliqués. The pine needle paillettes that swung along the catwalk this season hailed all the way from A/W07. These shimmering slivers covered sleeveless dresses, skirts that poked out from oversized nylon anoraks and bedazzled boob tubes, pulled over zip-up tops swathed in tulle. They shimmered in neon yellow, orange, fuschia and silver. They were punchy and acidic, free of their 20s flapper glamour and pared with protective clothing.
In another echo of the A/W18 Men’s collection, the show opened on a padded black nylon coat. They both harked back to Mrs Prada’s very first womenswear show – A/W88 – and to everything in between then and now, when the black nylon backpack is enjoying a revival. “I wanted to do something that was nearly impossible, make nylon luxurious,” Prada said at that early time time. She dances the same contradiction here, with padded nylon overcoats and bucket hats in neon shades, teamed with glitzy dresses, heels and sporty socks. It was girly gloriousness, but with a bang. In drawing the men’s and women’s collections together so surreptitiously, was Mrs Prada hinting at a future combination of the two? Or merely drawing a longed-for equality between the sexes?