A Sporty Dimension – Prada, Burberry Prorsum, Fendi and Missoni

Miuccia Prada took her Prada collection in a tailored and sporty direction…Christopher Bailey’s Burberry Prorsum line was stylishly citified…and Karl Lagerfeld’s Fendi looks were creatures of considerable variety.

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Miuccia Prada took her Prada collection in a tailored and sporty direction…Christopher Bailey’s Burberry Prorsum line was stylishly citified…and Karl Lagerfeld’s Fendi looks were creatures of considerable variety.

Prada: Miuccia Prada is the most exciting designer working in fashion today — and probably the gutsiest. Her impact over the past decade has been incalculable, with no competitor able to close in on her particular turf. One reason is that if a fashion designer can be even part artist, Prada is. At the same time, for all her otherworldly, tiara-wearing iconoclasm, she has a remarkable cultural intuition with a velvet-gloved finger positioned firmly on the pulse. Hardly content to create high-minded, wearable art on a fashion island, Prada instead manipulates her artistic sensibility for commercial purposes. Hence the amazing installation that greeted guests arriving at her show on Wednesday: enormous screens along two walls, flashing projected images and news tickers parodying current events with a combination of real and distorted information. The work, a collaboration between Prada and Rem Koolhaas’ AMO, was designed for her Los Angeles Epicenter in the unabashed interests of empire-building. And, as everybody knows, it’s some kind of empire.

That’s because the merch — from the wear-everyday cashmere sweaters to highly embellished skirts to robotic Gumby key chains — is fabulous, and because Prada knows when to say when. So excuse her for moving on from her recent fragile, feminine eccentricity that has so inspired designers the world over. Now, she’s on to something sportier, a look with its own plentiful peculiarities in an apparently grounded package — and only she could pull it off so masterfully. “This is how to dress for life,” Prada said after the show. “We are living in the middle of the world. The collection is done for living now.”

Touché. Prada has always maintained that her past informs her present, which is why she started her vintage reissues at retail. It’s also why this collection borrowed obviously from past efforts in little decorative mirrors and, more importantly, in the emergence of a now-fresh silhouette, unfussy and short, with an emphasis on tailoring. It harkened to her Geek Chic moment back when, which may be why she signed on one of her long-ago models, Kristin McMenamy, to open the show.

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Still, the mannish cuts revealed in, for example, a jacket belted over a striped sweater and sensible shorts, were only the start of Prada’s new, antifragile attitude. She also loves a clean-cut shift and fuller dresses, worn most often with terrific flat sandals. She worked these in sturdy, high-interest fabrics — burlap; intriguing photo prints — colored from the rich, earthen palette of a dark fairy tale. And, while she started out with relative austerity, she built up to a crescendo of decoration that involved weighty jewelry, embroidery, appliqués and some major bird imagery. This ranged from a snappy shift with parrot appliqué to a Leda-and-the-swan-neck dress that rang a distant Björk bell (without looking foolish), to a frock fashioned quite remarkably from a bounty of peacock feathers.

Individually, the clothes looked great. As a collection, they indicate Prada’s readiness to lead fashion away from its current preoccupation with froth. In fact, she chose the aviary motif because, she said, birds represent “beauty, vanity, strength, freedom and warriors.” All, perhaps, a reflection of how Prada sees herself, and why she is so fearless.

Burberry Prorsum: Delightful, from start to finish. The clothes were delightful. The fresh-faced models were delightful. Grown-up Kate Moss sitting in the front row now looking faux-undone was delightful. The white Burberry-checked planters filled with hydrangeas at the entrance were delightful. And the fact that the designer has so distinctive a take on pretty was the most delightful of all.

Let’s face it, given fashion’s current mode, many designers find themselves on a collision course to pretty, their collections converging so closely as to seem interchangeable at times. Happily, Christopher Bailey has steered Burberry Prorsum miles away from that road much traveled, joyriding instead on a path all his own, one that drives all of Granny’s tchotchkes back to the attic, which, at this point, looks increasingly like where they belong. Rather, he prefers a take on pretty that is ultramodern and looks totally undone, in that perfect Brit sort of way.

Bailey’s girls are city types with a nature fetish. They co-opt flower patterns from Wedgwood china (and bold graphics from Clarice Cliff) to step lively on terrific wedge shoes. They can make a picnic anytime, anywhere in skirts that mimic Amish quilts. And, of course, they love long walks in the rain, the better to show off a dazzling array of trenchcoats, from wide, romantic smocks to a hipped-up take on a child’s sunny yellow slicker. But mostly, these girls love to pull on sundry pieces with little apparent forethought, stepping out fresh-faced and quietly eccentric to seize the day. Truth be told, of course, such a girl considers each mix oh-so-carefully. How else to radiate charm in the perfect pale knit cardigan with a jeweled tie over a floral shirt and vibrant metallic skirt, or a draped-up goddess dress under a chill-chasing cardigan and wooly fringe scarf with a predatory spider brooch perched just so? Bailey has exercised similar clever calculation in shaping Burberry Prorsum, and in so doing, has given youthful, street-worthy style a thoroughly engaging dose of feminine wiles.

Fendi: “I am new fashioned,” crooned the soundtrack at Karl Lagerfeld’s Fendi show. Everybody knows that Lagerfeld, who has been designing at Fendi for more than 35 years, is quite a modern guy. Yet just to drive the notion home, he flooded the spring runway with a truckload of far-flung ideas before you could utter a quick, “What-the-heck?” Many of these looked great. But the message of his mix might take the rest of us another 35 to sort out.

The mood was, in a broad sense, painterly. Lagerfeld never committed himself to a tangy bright or an autumnal palette, deciding instead to flit between the two. Abstract prints lent some dresses a punched-up edge, as with one in bright yellow streaked with bands of ultraviolet and orange. Murkier tones and macramé trimmings created a earthy vibe. Which is to say that Lagerfeld never puts a limit on his inspiration, either.

There was a vague Seventies feel to jersey dresses, smartly bound with contrasting trim or fastened with a row of simple ties down the front; a snappy storybook doll moment with puffed-up peach sleeves and a pretty princess dress, and fine-tuned minimalist gowns trimmed with sleek silver links. Then came trapeze-cut chiffon dresses dotted with colorful bits of fluffy fur the size of cotton balls. If variety is the spice of fashion, then Lagerfeld’s ladies are the new spice girls.

Lagerfeld proved — yet again — that his imagination knows no bounds. Fendi’s execs are keen on building the business in major new ways. And for his part, clearly Lagerfeld is keen on taking the house in bold directions. In order for the rest of the world to keep up, however, he may need to slow down the informational flow or give the rest of us a better map.

Missoni: Like a cool slice of watermelon on a red-hot day, out came Angela Missoni’s charming spring collection, as heralded in look number two by — what else? — a sweater graced with an appliquéd still life of fruit. Throughout, Missoni took a languid approach that kept the whole collection floating right along. She delivered flou, without going overboard. She used ruffles without going frilly. She kept the look sweet, while never losing her grip on the hip factor. She hinted at retro, without launching into time travel. And the mood was pitch perfect.

Missoni’s light touch kept her family’s famous knits featherweight, whether in the form of sweaters that slid off the shoulder or subtly sexy knit lace dresses in raspberry red or tangy lime. But the bulk of the collection was made up of dreamy dresses of the flirty, fluttering variety. Missoni sent these out in bevies under shrunken cardigans or tiny fur vests. Some of her floral sundresses came wrapped round and round with sporty ribbon belts. Others, decorated with a leafy patch of sequins here and there, offered a more offbeat look. Meanwhile, a whiff of Seventies nostalgia came into play with those cut in a wistful wisteria print shot through with disco gold and the occasional kimono sleeve nodded towards a distant geisha inspiration. But why stretch? This collection’s roots are most deeply grounded in a very pretty reality. Not fantasy land, but dreamy nonetheless.

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