Prada's bellbottoms are more than nostalgia

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The Independent Online

While themes of escapism and shades of girlish pink dominate the rest of Milan Fashion Week, at Prada yesterday the most influential designer in the business looked back to the Seventies for her spring/summer 2008 show.

Not everybody recalls the fashion of that decade with fondness. But for Miuccia Prada, speaking backstage after the show last night, the era was, "a moment of new creativity, of imagination, of travel".

On her catwalk stiff, printed bellbottom flares came out in offbeat shades of plum, olive green and mustard yellow. When worn with matching tunics that fastened with a mandarin collar, they resembled hand-painted pyjamas. But Prada isn't only one of the world's most-imitated designers; it posted a 40 per cent leap in profits this week. The former mime artist and holder of a PhD in political science is also regarded as one of fashion's most rigorous thinkers. Murky colours and flares added up to more than nostalgia. Prada was trying to address what women want, she said.

"Nothing is straight, it was all curves. I think women like soft things, but soft fabrics are so boring to work with. I forced myself to do it," she said. The result was not just Seventies references but an eclectic mix of Art Nouveau prints, outlandish scallop-edged suede shoes and knitted jumpsuits. The curving seams on a full organdie skirt and the dreamy illustrations that decorated the walls surrounding her catwalk all bespoke of the same unapologetically feminine approach.

Yesterday morning at Jil Sander the designer Raf Simons used difficult shades of day-glo pink and juicy orange with a deft touch. He used hard colour both for tailoring or for light-as-air dresses that hovered around the body. Jil Sander is a brand that defined Nineties minimalism but following the departure of its namesake designer in 2005, Raf Simons, from Belgium, has carved out a younger image.

White summer coats in papery fabrics will appeal to fans of Jil Sander's perfectly cut tailoring but he also made innovations by cutting jackets so short that they barely fell below the collarbone. Radical indeed.

In line with a trend that is sweeping the Italian fashion business, the company was bought by a private equity firm in 2006. Although it is expanding, last week executives revealed that label has not yet broken even. Brands including Valentino, Matthew Williamson and Jimmy Choo are all also backed by private equity and it is not yet clear how the new commercial order will affect labels in the longer term. For the moment it is reassuring to fans of the Jil Sander brand that Simons retains control over design and imagery.