And the asking price of S$1,480
“Pragmatic garments acquire new importance and value”, Prada says on its website in reference to their “typically masculine tank top”. That Prada would give seriousness and status to clothing this practical is understandable. But what about value? Are they referring to merit or material worth? First shown in the autumn/winter 2022 show in Milan back in February, the sleeveless top is now available in stores here for the startling price of S$1,480. Under the same roof, a “wallet with shoulder strap” in the house’s recognisable Saffiano leather and with gold hardware is noticeably cheaper—S$1,070. And you thought the similar Marine Serre version (in organic cotton though), with her crescent moon logo in the middle, expensive at S$200 a pop. How does a mere singlet, as we tend to call such garment (Prada prefers the American phrase), that is essentially an undershirt become a four-figure item? Or is the price determined to deter wearers from letting it sit under? Surely it has to be seen?
To be sure, the Prada singlet has a nice hand feel. In baby-ribbed, cotton-knit jersey, it is soft and surprisingly rather thick and does not yield easily to enthusiastic stretching, possibly due to the heavier-gauge yarn used in the fabric, and that it is for the fall season. The neckline—described as “scooped” but is rather squarish—and the surprisingly wide armholes are piped (quite widely) in the same fabric as the body. Although of a “fitted silhouette”, as per Prada, the singlet sits rather loosely on an average-sized woman. In the middle, right below the neckline, a recognisable Prada inverted triangle in enamel catches attention, like a third eye—here, seeing from the cleavage. Without this, the singlet, even if it “embodies the luxury of simplicity”, would not have stood out from its less-worthy ilk, such as those by Hanes or the Japanese brand Gunze.
This singlet, Prada tells us, is “is transformed” from a “typically masculine tank top… with the addition of feminine elements”. While the neckline and possibly the armholes are feminised, the garment is unable to divorce itself from the regular singlet once worn mainly by men. This top, when it emerges as outerwear in the mid-19th century has always been associated with the working class or, in Australia, where the name ‘singlet’ derives, shearers, miners, and farmers. It is a simple garment, made of durable, inexpensive rib cotton knit that is appreciated for its comfort and shape retention (the neck and the armholes are usually reinforced for added durability, as it is with the Prada). It is not associated with high-end fashion, but so are T-shirts. Nothing is too low-brow for luxury fashion when brands desire to offer everything one may need to fill one’s wardrobe.
This is not Prada‘s first singlet, of course. One iteration in the past that we recall has far less discreet branding on the chest (emblazoned with logo and crest). We cannot remember how much that cost, but it is unlikely above S$1,000. A Calvin Klein tank top under its Calvin Klein Jeans imprint, averages S$79 a piece, and that is still premium pricing. One Hong Kong-based sourcing agent told us that such tank tops “typically cost US$1 to 2” to produce if Chinese cotton is not used (they are now cheaper as most international brands are avoiding them—“nobody wants China cotton now”). Fabrics make up the largest component of the cost of the garment, and the fibre of the fabric usually the largest of that cost. Cotton fibres outside China preferred these days come from Peru and Barbados, to name two places. We do not, of course, know where Prada’s cotton for their singlet comes from, but, in all likelihood, it’s not a fabric so astronomically priced that they could justify the four-figure price the brand is asking for.
Garment pricing is, of course, somewhat complex and includes factors beyond manufacturing and the quantity produced. The one item on the singlet that is probably it’s selling point rather than the “pragmatic garment” itself—and a symbol of perceived value—is the triangular Prada plaque. As one marketing head told us, “the Prada brand value and their logos sit in the stratosphere. And they are worth more than the ribbed cotton singlet, which is just a vehicle to push the brand. You have to pay to wear that triangle, and not an insignificant amount. Somehow they have worked the ‘COE’ into the price of the garment.” The Prada triangle first mostly appeared on bags and accessories. It started to find its place on garments in a significant manner, sometimes just a mere triangle in fabric and sans text, after Raf Simons joined the company as co-designer in 2020. The plaque is appealing all over again, even on gloves.
But as with everything else in fashion, including ugliness, expensive is being redefined. That a singlet could cost this much is not due to the design and the sensuality that the brand has infused into its garments and one that has been described as cerebral, but a single hardware no taller than the length of an adult thumb. Prada is aware of the humble history of the singlet. That’s why they need to elevate it and team it with relatively fancy, not minimalist, skirts, as seen on the runway, in the current lookbook, and on store mannequins, not with just a pair of jeans—that would be too pedestrian. And to further augment its value, that small regular shape with three angles, a vestige of luxury that will cost the proverbial pretty penny. That way, you would single the singlet out.
Photos: Chin Boh Kay