The power of choice was the message of Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons’s Spring/Summer 2023 menswear show. And, as part of that, the importance of the designer as a creative force in fashion, something they said their now two-year old partnership was all about, right from the start. Two heads, after all, are better than one – and, paradoxically (paradox being a Prada trope if ever there was one) their partnership has resulted not in collections complicated by multiple thought-processes, but a system of simplification, of reduction to the essential. That was the case this season – the Rem Koolhaas decor being a prime example. Take a piece of paper and cut four squares in it – it becomes a window, the paper a wall. Assemble four, and you’ve got a house, and a house is a home. Reducing the material, but expanding the message.
In times as cluttered, topsy-turvy and contradictory as right now, directness is needed to cut through the fuss and bother. That was the big idea for Prada – “simplicity as a concept, as a choice,” said Miuccia Prada. “It was about clothes that people could really wear, but with an impact. That for us is fashion, now.” Simons agreed, categorising the collection as “the idea of ‘normal’ clothing.” The mix of those normal pieces, however, was what made them jar: an example already famous is that of a beige car-coat over brief double-zipped leather shorts; fetish meets fisherman. “There’s a kind of anti-logic to the combination of the clothes, an oddness,” said Simons. There’s something punk in that mix, and if we’re talking about archetypes of dress, punk has become one all its own. “Punk picnic,” was something I overhead Simons saying – laughing – backstage, explaining the combination of leather with gingham checks that were sometimes cut into those wide coats, as well as collaged shirts and tunics with a fresh innocence. Domesticity was unavoidable: we were sat in a house watching this show, after all. The checks reminded you of tablecloths or curtains – Koolhaas used some of them, in paper of course, to make drapes at pretend windows – and the only other decoration was a simple silhouette of a flower shoved in a wine bottle, printed on T-shirts, and wriggly ric-rac braids meandering across shirts, maybe forming a simple outline of the Prada triangle.
It all sounds so simple. But, Prada and Simons insisted, the methods behind were anything but. “They appear simple but are the result of a process of choice,” said Prada. “There are hundreds of coats, why is this the right one?” The same is true of the checkered patterns, archival examples unearthed, collated and drilled down to a clutch of patterns that felt right. In a sense, it’s a different process of design – “curation” was the word Prada and Simons used, again championing that idea of decision and choice, the importance of intention, not just of creation. Fashion is always a process of reinventing the wheel, after all – can any garment ever really be new? Isn’t it always embedded in a rich and storied history, always expressive of the shapes and forms and ideas of the past? Gabrielle Chanel – a champion of the new, if ever there was one – once stated that only those with no memory insist on their originality. And memory was also a vital idea here – the memory of the original context of these pieces, whether the city streets of a coat or those leather shorts (which could, maybe, be Tyrolean if you looked hard enough), interrupted and sometimes even erased by their new juxtapositions. That’s something that has always fascinated both Prada and Simons who, while never nostalgic, also never forget.
And the consummate message of this Prada show as a whole, however, was as a reminder of the importance, always, of a designer – or designers – behind the design. It’s their job to make those decisions, to curate our world.