Miuccia Prada has been fixated for a fair few seasons now on notions of real and unreal, fantasies and realities. Example: back in January, we watched models march around a very real ‘Prada Warehouse’ filled with unreal product stamped with ersatz Prada logos. But the logos were created by OMA, for Prada – they featured in the womenswear collection shown a month later. So they were fake and real.
There was an evolution of those ideas playing out on the seventh floor of Prada’s New York headquarters on Friday evening in Miuccia Prada’s Resort 2019 collection and the first ever Prada show to debut outside of Milan. Previous seasonal shows have been restaged in locales like Beijing and Tokyo (the former, in January 2011, featured a jazzy sequinned reimagining of the banana-festooned prints of that year’s spring collection), but this emphasised a new reality – the importance of interim pre-collections, both as a business tool and a creative exercise. For a number of years now Prada has been expanding its repertoire regarding resort – or cruise, or pre-spring, or whatever you want to call it (I favour the latter) – including it alongside their menswear shows in June since 2012 before spinning off into its first standalone show last May. That was staged in a Prada locale off fashion’s well-beaten track: the Fondazione Prada’s photography gallery known as the Osservatorio, above Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Art lovers were familiar with it, but the rest of us, not so much.
“I want this to feel real – without losing fantasy” – Miuccia Prada
The space this time was Prada’s corporate offices – a space you wouldn’t see unless you work for Prada S.p.A. NYC, or are interviewing to do so, or maybe if you’re delivering a package to someone who does. There are a few other possible scenarios, but generally, it’s off-limits. It’s also impressive, a former piano factory stripped to naked concrete by the architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, who also devised the special set-up for the show space, divided by semi-transparent panels of perspex cut to the exact dimensions of the building’s windows. Inside, they became planes for projections of imaginary urban scenes, reflective sheets that multiplied both the city outside and the models as they waltzed past. Real and unreal, reflections and inventions.
Backstage afterwards, Miuccia Prada insisted the collection was easy, her intention “to stay away from big drama”, which is pretty much the inverse of much fashion conversation, where often too much meaning is ascribed to fashion with too little to say. Although Prada’s clothes were undoubtedly straightforward – slim-cut skirts, narrow coats, slender trouser suits, mini-skirts slung low on the hip – they gave you plenty to think about, and talk about. The reflections of the models, for instance, made you think about the reflections of Prada within these Prada clothes, echoing the moment when the brand first leapt into wider consciousness in the 1990s, a point in fashion Miuccia Prada defined, and which in itself can help define her taste. Everything Miuccia Prada liked then was wrong – the off colours, the iffy patterns, the strange fabrics. Mrs Prada’s outlook constantly shifts, from season to season, but this is, arguably, the one characteristic she has retained throughout her shifts: to challenging and question notions of wealth, status, and real luxury. She sometimes reflects it, but mostly, like those panels, she refracts it, distorting it, creating something different, unsettling, new. Even her own identity is subject to this treatment: those Prada prints, in this collection, were reflected in embroideries of pailettes that effectively blurred the lined between two and three dimensions.
The carry away from this show was how the clothes themselves seemed unwilling to kowtow to convention, either of the fashion mood of the moment (Prada is shifting us wholeheartedly away from anything and everything oversized – silhouettes are elongated, attenuated and rail-thin, without excess fabric to pinch at any seam), or of the pre-spring season. How perverse to show a collection sometimes named after the clothes sported by the rich and fabulous lounging on ocean liners, and dress models in overcoats, floor-length dresses and brocade deerstalker hats. Then again, these clothes will actually be sold from November time. When you’ll probably really want a coat. There were plenty to fantasise about here. “I want this to feel real – without losing fantasy,” said Mrs Prada.
Around the corner from the show, Prada threw a dinner for the few hundred guests, where diners like Raf Simons and Marc Jacobs and Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Chloë Sevigny talked about the state of fashion, and the weight of the world, and Wild Wild Country on Netflix, and ate off dragon-patterned Meissen crockery purportedly from Mrs Prada’s own home. You can’t get much more unreal, and real, than that.