Where to start? With Miuccia Prada’s spectacular collection, this one a treatise on self-expression via a (mostly) less-is-more approach to dressing? Or with the deep-thoughts pre-show press conference in which she addressed one of fashion’s most pressing issues, the inherent contradiction of consumerism and production versus social responsibility? Even a scant 30 minutes before show time, Prada was unwilling to downplay the conflict therein.
“The feeling at the moment is about ‘too much,’ too much of everything, too much,” Prada said. “There’s also a call not to produce, not to consume. In this atmosphere I tried to, firstly, to do less, even though I’m not sure I was able to because when you do fashion, fashion slips through your hands.” She acknowledged that in trying to create less, she may have done the opposite. “I’ve never had as many leftovers as this season…there’s a lot of stuff we didn’t use.
“I certainly worked by subtraction, struggling to do so, also, because you get carried away with fashion. A dress, a pair of shoes only, you panic when it’s too little.”
Prada spoke to bifurcated contradictions across the fashion sphere. First, she addressed the impact on the industry if consumers cut back significantly on luxury goods. “If [people don’t] consume, we need to be prepared to being poor and without a job….On one end, you need to make more profits; on the other end, you don’t need too many profits because otherwise you ruin the world,” she said, referencing a piece in the Financial Times on Wednesday about the need to rethink capitalism — a question WWD addressed in July. “Probably, yes, even though…it’s not clear how to do it. However, it’s a topic to address seriously.”
Second, the cry for newness. In response to a journalist’s question about retailers bemoaning a lack of newness, Prada said, “It’s a total contradiction. We need to consume less, but they want newness — clients want it, journalists want it, press want it, people want it. So probably, it’s a contradictory subject. The real truth is that everybody wants more and wants newness.”
A lot to take into the design process for a new collection, yet not Prada’s prevailing thought. “Most importantly, [I wanted] to think more about a person’s style rather than about fashion, so that the person is more important than the clothes,” she said. This represents a considerable shift in her approach to the runway. While a major leitmotif of Prada’s has long been women’s place in the world – who we are, where we are, how perceptions and reality converge and conflict – she has typically addressed that philosophical issue from a universal perspective, without consideration of individual personalities.
Not that she’s a nut. In real life, “I’ve always [known] that clearly, the person is more important,” she said. (She illustrated this with an amusing self-assessment: “I myself dress up my bottom half and not the upper half because I want to be free…I don’t want frills; otherwise I’m not able to think.”) But on the runway, her typical approach has been to think “more about the clothes than the girls.”
Not so here. Instead, she put together looks, and in some cases, designed pieces, according to her models’ personalities and preferences. It made for powerful viewing. Prada is, in her own words, “a fashion animal, so it’s a fashion perception.” A brilliantly considered perception, one for which she culled from and distilled numerous references from across decades and maisons. Seventies tailoring kept ultra-chic company with Twenties chemises and sweater-and-skirt looks that were Nineties minimal. And not so minimal; intarsia knits and some suitings came in patterns descended from Prada’s original “ugly prints,” groundbreaking back when, and now, fully incorporated into fashion’s lexicon.
Like her friend and admirer Marc Jacobs, Prada is a full-credit creative. Of one of the collection’s key components, she said, “It may look like it’s Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, it may look like it’s from Prada. It’s the idea of a suit.” And in the end, consummately Prada. Tailoring was a major theme, but juxtaposed with the ease of languid dresses, the former often in men’s wear kid mohair, the latter, in raw silk gauze, for an elegant take on earthy. But there were plenty more materials of note, including a fabulous chevron velvet. Whatever, Prada embellished (or not) to suit personalities, adding big sequined palm-frond embroideries to skirts and to dresses, loose velvet bibs or knot-front necklines that flowed into long, graceful scarves in back.
Despite her unwillingness to oversimplify the call to produce less, Prada still telegraphed that “less” can speak differently to different people. She opened and closed with the same light gray fine-gauge sweater, first on Freja Beha Erichsen, worn with an ivory gauze skirt for a gentle take on that Nineties cool, and finally, on Sara Blomqvist, worn with a lavender leather skirt with a single sequined botanical embroidery, the essence of dressed-down urbanity. “It is fundamentally,” Prada wrote in her program notes, “a collection about the power of women over clothing, and of style over fashion.”
Quite a statement from a fashion animal — one of the best ever.