Prada: The Ultimate Fashion Exam?

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Prada S/S16
Prada S/S16Photography by Luca Grottoli

In light of S/S16, we teach you how to decode the collection and pass the seasonal Prada exam with flying colours

“The aftermath of a Prada show is always an amusing gaggle of people tentatively testing out their theories on the collection on each other as if they were about to sit an exam,” commented Susanne Madsen following Prada's S/S16 "Men and Women show" on Sunday. Indeed, the reverence that Prada inspires across the industry commands a wealth of detailed post-show analysis, a competitive frenzy to be the first to unpack Mrs Prada’s esoteric references – and it really can feel like the ultimate fashion exam. Will it be commentary on the context of gender veiled in black nylon, or an exploration of artifice in saccharine pastels? Where will she source her references? What will it all mean? And who among the abundance of commentators will get it right and have their show report printed out for Mrs Prada’s consideration? Here is how we have worked out to pass Prada with flying colours...

"Everyone knows that the first clue to a Prada show is in the invitations"

Everyone knows that the first clue to a Prada show is in the invitations, which always offer a cryptic hint to as to what will follow. This season, attendees were sent multiple sheets of perspex, each with a distorting texture, that had to be layered upon each other to become legible. Not only did this speak to the décor of the showspace (a kind of space-age abattoir, filled with giant, translucent stalactites of fiberglass and polycarbonate) but also to the very styling of the clothes: everything from socks to jumpers was piled on top of each other with an artful dishevelment.

This method of presentation seemed, if anything, more Miu Miu than Prada; in fact, it was only in A/W14 that Mrs Prada announced that the sister brand’s inspiration came from a heaped assembly of Portabello vintage finds, and the sandals-and-crumpled sock look is one now key to the aesthetic. This reminds us of another mode of Prada preparation: a thorough understanding of previous collections.

"How will we analogise the cat-eye make-up to her current John Waters fetish if we can’t remember previous show soundtracks?"

How will one know that Mrs Prada is making a comment on the pace of fashion through the inter-seasonal consistency of hair styling if one can’t remember the high ponytails of Prada last season? What about the repetition of the top-stitching detail present in Spring 2015? How will we analogise the cat-eye make-up to her current John Waters fetish if we can’t remember previous show soundtracks? A thorough session of revision is required for any comprehensive understanding of the current collection; and it pays off.

The Experience
Pay attention to every element of the experience for the complete understanding of a Prada collection; whether it is the soundtrack curated by maestro Frederic Sanchez or the snacks. "What can one learn from a canapé?" you might ask. Well, last season, pink sandwiches filled with salty cream reminded us that sugary sweet appearances weren't quite what they seemed.

"What can one learn from a canapé?"

This season, paper-wrapped alcoholic ice lollies were more Wall's ice-cream van than anything else – a throwback to an eighties Lemon Sparkle instead of an artisanal salted caramel. Their relevance became clear once one saw a collection that gave a hearty nod to the era. Princess Diana jumpers decorated with kitsch bunny prints followed Bruce Jenner retro sportswear, and the Space Race graphics evocative of Soviet propaganda paired with 1984 Big Brother eyes made it all feel very Cold War.

Compare Notes
Remember that, rather than giving post-show interviews, Mrs Prada invites editors and journalists to huddle around her while she gives one brief speech on the collection with everyone vying for dictaphone space – so prepare for some elbow jockeying.

"Her prints were chosen for their sheer meaninglessness"

“Post-Modest” she declared S/S16, telling us that her prints were chosen for their sheer meaninglessness, they were “the most infantile symbols” and it all represented hyper-normality in a time where everyone is agonisingly desperate to appear cool. But everyone knew that it would be obtuse to write off the collection as merely banal, and that this is a time to truly listen.

Following show departure this season, guests were invited around the corner to Prada’s new Fondazione: a land where subversion, subtlety and detail unite for the ultimate Prada experience. This is a time when you are free to discuss and dissect the collection within Wes Anderson’s Bar Luce, and when Prada was also reminding us that they are more than the average fashion house, but one with an in-depth understanding of the arts and their curation. They are a brand who deserve thorough analysis – even if, backstage, Mrs Prada called the symbols “stupid” and the clothes “normal”.

Figures like Jack O’Connell and Willem Dafoe – men who have come to represent the brand's Hollyweird crew of ambassadors – mixed with editors and journalists each comparing their notes: was the collection’s inclusion of dynamic imagery a metaphor for the pace of fashion? Does the resemblance to Miu Miu mean Mrs Prada is holding the sister brand’s profitability in higher regard than Prada’s falling figures? 

"Is Post-Modest the new Normcore?"

Is Post-Modest the new Normcore? These are the killer questions on the Prada exam, and perhaps the ones that determine whose pieces end up in Mrs Prada’s (surely enviably organised) review folders. And that’s a greater commendation than any achievable grade.