Milan Fashion Week: Miuccia Prada's clothes speak for themselves

Prada's intentions are frequently illuminating and always fascinating, but her work is complex enough to see your own truth and story in it

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Indy Lifestyle Online

I’ve been told by enough designers that time is luxury. I think thats why people are creating things that take up so much of the damn stuff, because its the only thing that’s really worth anything when previously precious materials have been commonplace, and now just common, and good design is all too frequently taking a back seat to churning out money-making stuff. So I took my time writing this, despite braving the ritualistic hurtling of press backstage to find out as fast as humanly possibly what has made Miuccia Prada’s brain whirr over the past six months. It is a rush like no other because Prada is one of fashion’s great thinkers, and this is the one chance to hear straight from her what she intended us to see. It’s also a rush because Mrs Prada shows at 6pm of a Thursday evening in Milan, so editors fling themselves at their keyboards to make the European newspaper deadlines. No time you see. No luxury.

I enjoy the scrabble. It’s not something I do all that often, at shows - but it’s worth it there. That’s because Miuccia Prada always has exciting, interesting notions, which maybe gel with what you saw in the show, but perhaps jar. I always think a Prada show is a bit like a fashion Rorschach test. It’s more a measure of you than her, to see if you see what you’re supposed to see, and if you like it or not.

However, I also like to make up my own mind about Prada. Her intentions are frequently illuminating and always fascinating, but her work is complex enough to see your own truth and story in it. It’s open for interpretation, rather than the homogeny of eighties, seventies, hippy or goth offered by other designers, superficial references sliding across the surface. Mrs Prada’s ideas are embedded, ingrained in her clothing. Everyone will unpick them differently. Think of it as a theoretical essay - Prada: discuss.

This time, however, Miuccia Prada wasn’t there to see her own show, due to a family bereavement. There are some things bigger than fashion, even when you are one of its defining figures. Mrs Prada left the design studio at midnight the day before the show, and the thronging crowds backstage were met not by she, but by a he: Fabio Zambernardi, design director of both Prada and Miu Miu. He’s generally a behind-the-scenes type - a few members of the press, the same ones who push into Mrs Prada’s face for answers every season, later asked me his surname, which illustrates quite how unknown he is. 

Zambernardi did Mrs Prada proud in deciphering the meaning of this show - he talked about subverting classics, about the bubbly transparent organza jackets and skirts being like the memory or idea of a garment, rather than its concrete physicality. Layered over other more substantial garments, they leant them a mirage-like ethereal quality. Chopped-up scraps of millinery veiling were pasted against the models’ necks; the organza stuff felt like veils over the clothes too, blurring hemlines and outlines. It felt a little like a curator explaining the intentions of an artist as we wandered about their gallery opening.

Forget classics, and ghosts of garments, and all those suits - although the return of the latter, in the wake of the Conservative victory and a Right Wing wave across Europe, is a fascinating example of fashion reflecting political upheaval. What’s more conservative than a neatly matching skirt-suit, lines of patchwork straight and narrow? 

I never think of Prada’s clothes as straight and narrow - the former especially evident in her menswear’s sly, transgressive sexuality. And no-one’s reach, nor mind, is broader in fashion than Mrs Prada’s. Except, possibly, Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, although i feel Kawakubo has distanced herself from the fashion world - and even clothing - in recent seasons. Mrs Prada, by contrast, is at its beating heart.

What are my other takes on these clothes? How about the primacy of line, the idea of the simple, even primitive gesture of marking a horizontal or vertical, which was the foundation of both illustration and language in prehistoric times. The martingales splicing Mrs Prada’s jackets at the back were horizontal, all that patching vertical, her tweeds in prince-of-wales checks, like cross-hatching across the body. Those veils were criss-cross checkers too, come to think of it. The print, on organza coats and skirts, looked like parallel lines of matchsticks. Then the embroidery, the glorious, scribbled flowers in pailettes spilling out of the collection’s predominantly narrow silhouettes. Mrs Prada colouring outside her own lines. They looked luxurious, and like they took a long, long time. They clattered loudly as the models took their turns below curving panes of plastic, like blown up palettes themselves.

There were also absolutely no trousers. So maybe straight and narrow was indeed a key notion - the inherently feminine, archetypes of female fashionability, the fifties hat veiling, the exaggerated earrings, the gilded lips, the industrial heels, like court shoes with their trappings stripped away to expose their innards. Combine that with those ghost garments and there was an idea of looking inward, examining the construction of the feminine ideal, debunking the mystique. It felt not like the volte-face Prada normally explores, but a further extrapolation on the genetically-modified femininity of Prada’s winter collection. That collection was about what women wanted, a notion Mrs Prada told me she was fascinated by. The odd machination of desire, which is the very reason the fashion industry exists, a business devoted to convincing us all we need to buy a new jacket (here, in stripes, with those big fat martingales) when we all already own so many.

Mrs Prada, ultimately, didn’t need to be here to talk to us. Because her clothes speak for themselves.