Prada goes back to the 1940s in search of beauty

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The Independent Online

"People and communities everywhere are searching for beauty," said Miuccia Prada last night after her spring/summer show, held at the brand's cavernous headquarters, where models walked around a concrete pergola and vaguely oriental decorative projections flickered on the walls.

Spoken by any other fashion designer, such words might be dismissed as platitudes. But Prada, a former mime artist and political science graduate, has proven many times her ability to alter widely held perceptions of taste and beauty.

Her current "research" into what might constitute an aesthetic that reflects the times meant 1940-style turbans in jewel colours and narrow duchesse satin tunics, with waists accentuated by masculine leather belts. "Simple things that make a woman look strong and serious" was how the designer described her lean, glamorous coat-dresses that looked fit for a Joan Crawford or, in the artsy appeal of a dress smothered in coloured milk-bottle tops, Peggy Guggenheim.

While other designers are in the mood for lightweight, pale sun dresses, Prada's collection was sultry and focused on glossy fabrics usually reserved for evening. Yes, there were shorts, but cut from sage-green satin and worn with brightly coloured elastic sandals.

Hints of ethnically eclectic sources were in russet-toned patchwork mini dresses ­ worn with matching back packs ­ or the tiers of Navajo fringing on a shift dress.

From Yves Saint Laurent's Piet Mondrian dresses in the 1960s to Stella McCartney's recent collaboration with Jeff Koons, fashion's love affair with artists has been passionate.

Yesterday in Milan, another designer, Marni's Consuelo Castiglioni, also revealed herself to be an art lover: first by using splodgy brushstroke patterns and prints inspired by abstract art for her loose-fitting tunics; then by reproducing three watercolour paintings by the American artist Richard Prince for prints on T-shirts and vests. Prince is known for appropriating imagery from pop culture for his artworks, so he will have appreciated the irony of finding his work on a designer T-shirt.

Marni's egg-shaped dresses in gentle shades of tobacco and taupe looked feminine and forward-thinking ­ no sexpot clichés here ­ while sporty details such as the sailing-boat rope belts or the striped leggings worn under tunics gave the collection a youthful feel.

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