This is not a nice 'woman!' announces Miuccia Prada with considerable pride, speaking of those who might best suit her collection this season. The offering in question might perhaps best be described as sauvage meets grunge, and all accessorised with a big, woolly hat and the type of boots that are more readily associated with a particularly challenging assault course than tripping down Bond Street on a shopping spree.

This person, then, is the antithesis of people-pleasing arm candy: she dresses for herself, thank you. Demonstrating a sense of mischief, which in fashion circles is rare, the designer warms to her subject further: 'In fact, this woman is the opposite of nice.'

At a time when fashion continues to rely on haute-couture values and a resolutely bourgeois silhouette - on all things 'nice', basically - it is surely worth noting that this designer, one of style's most influential players, is busily overturning just that way of thinking, and all without batting an eyelid. More remarkable still is the fact that it was, of course, Prada who set the world alight by reinventing just this aesthetic in the first place. If anyone is responsible for the return of 'the lady' to the fashion arena it is Prada, after all, thereby making a certain conservatism in dress seem not just fashionable once more, but radical to boot.

Now, though, she is bored. And that is entirely her prerogative. So, just when the rest of the world - as witnessed everywhere, from other people's catwalks to the high street - has settled into her past way of thinking, Prada steps in and decrees that, actually, she's changed her mind. Nice? Who wants to be nice any more?

'I wanted to move away from the idea of retro prettiness,' she explains, 'and back to a sense of power, dignity and intelligence. I think that the past has great value, but not the idea of retro niceness. At the same time, I was interested in a very animal woman, in using the animal as a symbol of strength.'

With this in mind, a jungle backdrop, courtesy of Rem Koolhaas, framed a collection that relied as much on animal print as it did roughly cut furs, all gracing an overall line that seems surprisingly tough, even aggressive, in flavour - from the return of the parka to the aforementioned industrial-strength footwear. But this is not 'animal' in the flash-trash sense beloved of so many of Italy's big-name designers. Instead, in colour and cut, leopard print, in particular, has never seemed so low-key.

As always, although a certain playfulness is top of the agenda, that belies a more considered approach.

'At this moment, we are very weak,' says Prada. 'I think we live in a world that is so full of things to solve that we lose a point of view. We lose focus because there are too many details, too many things to do, and that is distracting, one loses the sense of what is really important. I think that this more instinctive side of people, this more animalistic side, will help them to be strong again.'

Perhaps safe in the knowledge that fashion is, in the end, about clothes, and bored by the press's wont to pigeonhole her an intellectual designer - she herself is, primarily, instinctive in approach - Prada is quick to acknowledge that none of this is rocket science.

'Of course, fashion is ultimately completely useless,' she explains. 'Having said that, there's this idea that if you're doing fashion, you are required not to think, that it is all about cliché, and that's wrong, too. Every designer has their own understanding of society and their own vision. You can't actually do fashion unless you have that.

'I also think that the ability to use clothes is a huge advantage. What you're wearing is what you're thinking, it shouldn't be just something external, it should be part of the wearer. At the moment, I tend to think that if it is at all political or serious, whatever type of work you're doing, is useful. I do what I think is right to do through my work, which is, of course, the only instrument I have.'

It is a mark of Prada's own strength, and even courage, that, despite the fact that she is the brains behind one of the world's most visible brands, she continues to rebel against the mainstream as if her existence depended upon it. She has often said that she likes brown because it is 'the least commercial colour' and, with its resolutely sludgy palette and equally uncompromising covered-up and loose-fitting silhouette, her current collection appears to swim against the tide more than ever.

'Yes, the collection is anarchic,' the designer agrees. 'And that is the point. I am an optimist as a matter of principle, and I think that you have to work and think a lot, and to want to fight. You have to want to do something in general. In the end, I am reacting against boredom, against always having to behave. I find that very frustrating. So, yes, this is not at all a nice woman. But that does not mean that she isn't very exciting.'

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