Raf Prada!

Has Miuccia Prada become more hands off sooner than we think? Or is Raf Simons merely asserting himself? Would this turn out be the best menswear collection of the Milan season?

If you love Prada and you love Raf Simons, you would love this collection. If you love Raf Simons more, this would totally grab you by the collar. The world was deeply curious when Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons as co-designers was announced in February 2020: How would the “balance of power” work out? These two designers do have distinct voices. Will they harmonise? The answer came in the form of the spring/summer 2021 women’s collection shown last September. It was as much Prada as it was Raf Simons—the best of both worlds, some say. But, with the pair’s first men’s collection for autumn/winter 2021, Mr Simons seems to hold sway. It was all rather familiar. Those of us who have been following the work of Mr Simons will recognise many of his touches. But more importantly, it’s how everything comes together, including Prada’s unmissable inverted triangle (now more symbolic that the straight-on enamelled logo)—there’s no mistaking Mr Simons has a strong hand in all of it.

Called Possible Feelings, the possibilities can indeed be felt. This is not a collection (or the thinking behind it) circumscribed by the four walls of your home because you are WTF. It isn’t a deliberate and conscious reaction against what is considered far from normal, which, as we know, is being redefined. Possible Feelings are what you, the individual, feel, and people do not feel alike. This open-to-interpretation approach is also reflected in the Rem Koolhaas/Amo-designed set. Although presented as a ‘show’, it isn’t on a regular runway, as the entire Milan Fashion Week is an online affair. We see the models walk into rooms, sans audience. Prada calls them a “non-space”. But they are physical confines, even if empty. Each with surfaces differently coloured and textured. Could they be separate realms? How do we possibly feel? Raf! The faux fur walls! Did they not appear in Mr Simons’s website History of my World?

It all starts with a sort of base garment: a knitted, patterned body stocking of sort, be it a top, a legging (the media calls it “long johns”), or both. Against the hard and grinding sounds of Plastikman’s soundtrack, the models appear in silhouettes that are generally lean. Raf! (We’re not getting into the argument of who did skinny first although we know.) The patterns recall Prada’s notorious but welcome “ugly” geometric shapes, in the colours of ’60s wallpaper. But these were not restricted to the close-to-the-body wear; they are in the form of cardigans (or all-knit cardi-suits!), coats, and, in what appears to be the lining of outers. Sometimes underneath all these is a turtleneck pullover. Raf! The slightly oversized sweaters, bombers, coats (those lapel-less pea coats!), shaped longer than the standard issue, contrast appealing with the lean separates worn underneath. Raf!

If you look at the pieces individually, you can’t really describe them as out there. Even with the addition of a co-designer, Prada keeps to the merchandising approach characteristic of the brand. Make a great coat, for example, with perfect proportions, of a familiarity that even non-fashion guys can accept, only make it in a blistering yellow or the softest of pink so that fashion folks cannot resist. Also Raf! There seems to be a push for textures, and the pairing with the smooth. A Prada collection is incomplete without nylon, and here, it goes with boldly patterned jacquard knits. There are also the matte turtle-necks and just-as-shine-free slim pants teamed with slouchy bombers with a soft sheen—almost lurid (the purple in particular). Prada calls these “sensory stimulation”. Given how our surroundings have been last year and would be the year ahead, such a stimulus is very much welcomed.

But it isn’t just the individual pieces that come together to show a Prada that’s delightfully not quite the same as it was before. The styling, too, speaks of the newer half of the designing duo. The models are thinner than ever (“all new models,” as The New York Times reported Mr Simons saying in a dialogue with Ms Prada). There’s the bowl cut of the hair—a reference to the Mods, although sartorially, the total is not quite the ’60s and there is no rebellion against the austerity of a previous generation. Raf! Or, could this be Prada’s style-aware otaku tribe, as opposed to the dandies seen elsewhere, such as at Fendi? Some of the guys walk awkwardly, some dance. They’re in their own world, kitted in their own vision of what is fashion in a world when fashion should not matter, at least not to the extent it deserves something as inane as Zoom meeting wear.

“Fashion became pop,” Mr Simons said in that dialogue, “and the winners now are the ones that scream hardest, not the ones that speak most intelligently.” Was that a prediction that having a vestige of intelligence in speaking, or communicating a design language or aesthetic, as is (always) evident in Prada, may result in not winning? Even when it was reported that Prada has been doing well, especially in Asia? It is unthinkable of a debut Raf Simons collection that does not emerge from speaking intelligently. Although Prada’s newest collection does not scream, it is audible in its tactile sumptuousness, pattern-strong pep, and off-beat pairings. How Raf.

Screengrab (top) and photos: Prada

The Clutch

No, we don’t mean the handbag; we’re referring to the way Raf Simons likes his models to hold on to the lapels of their coats, as if buttons don’t exist

From left: Prada spring/summer 2021 (photo: Prada), Jil Sander autumn/winter 2012 (photo: gorunway.com), Christian Dior Couture autumn/winter 2015 (photo: indigitalimages.com)

The way to secure a coat, it seems, is to clutch it. At the opening, just about where your solar plexus is. Ignore the buttons or the zip, or the Velcro. If they are there, they’re decorative details. Hold on to the opening in the form of a grab, but not as if for dear life. Designers like to say that there is a way to tie a sash so that the wearer looks chic. The same goes for your palm-as-fastener. You don’t grip as if to choke (nothing so violent), not even to clench (nothing so threatening). This is not prelude to some Masonic handshake. You curl your fingers to gently hold some fabric, the bend of your arm as if ready for a pet cat tired from walking. Or, at least that is how we think Raf Simons wants us to secure the opening of coats.

For his debut Prada collection that was co-designed with Miuccia Prada, Mr Simons (and Ms Prada) sent out models holding their coats in the said manner. It did not even require the sharp-eyed to see that this is a recognisable Raf Simons gesture. We were transported back to early 2012, at the autumn/winter swan song of his collection for Jil Sander. Those pastel double-faced wool coats, held as if the wearers had just emerged from a shower, clutching the ends of the towel close. We didn’t think much of that. Then came July of 2015, when Mr Simons, then steering Dior, had models do the same with the autumn/winter couture outerwear. Still, it would have been presumptive to consider that signature.

Of the four seasons Mr Simons showed at Calvin Klein, no model—not even one—ever held the opening of either coat or jacket together with one hand, and close to the chest. Many things happened during Mr Simon’s tenure at CK, but coats were left to their respective fastening to do their job. Then came his opening act for Prada a week or so ago. That clutch again. We did not forget. But now we are seeing a pattern. Clearly repetition can be discerned (thrice is enough to qualify), and, while Ms Prada herself had taken the end-of-show bow with hands similarly placed, she had not sent models down the runway doing so. This had to be Mr Simons’s doing. A gestural flourish. He was making a mark—his mark. As with everything these days, will it become a meme?

Winning Doubles

As it is always said, two heads are better than one, and no two better together than Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada

He delivered. She delivered. They delivered. Love children don’t always look good, but these do. If there was an alignment in the stars over Milan that day, it happened there and then. Prada’s spring/summer 2021 collection was everything we had hoped for and more. Something just clicked. It could be the synergy, but we think there could be more than that. Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons are potent design forces on their own, but when they came together, something sparked. And we wanted the flames. We wanted to be burned.

The show, filmed in what appeared to be a studio, was stripped of the conceptual sets that used to give Prada collections context. This time, it was just yellow (lemon, canary, fall gingko leaves… take your pick) curtains for the background, a similarly coloured pillar and floor, creating a patina of sunshine and optimism. There were camera rigs grouped in five (above each camera a flat screen) and mounted on a frame suspended from the ceiling. The set-up spoke of function and straight-to-the-point. The models catwalked and engaged the camera. If this is the future of digital fashion weeks, we really welcome it.

The clothes in this utilitarian space shone as if in grander confines—such as a couture salon? Indeed, if couture were to go this casual and sportif, this would be it. In just one viewing, it was hard—and unfair—to confine these clothes to a category. To be sure, they were supremely elegant, but they were, at the same time, somewhat fringe-y. To be sure, Prada has never been vanilla elegant. Its designs often incorporate elements that are not circumscribed by posh surroundings. The work of Mr Simons has been described as “street”. And perhaps this was his contribution to the partnership, in addition to the more linear silhouettes that he is known for, as well as his unique way with graphics and their non-centralised placements.

Since the announcement last February that Mr Simons will join Ms Prada as co-creative directors with—what the press loved to underscore—“equal responsibilities for creative input and decision-making”, we have been burning with curiosity. We know what Ms Prada can do, but we’re more interested in what Mr Simons could bring to yet another brand not his own. Is a European label more suited to his artistic temperament and aesthetical leaning? At Calvin Klein, we weren’t sure we witnessed virtuoso output. Will Prada draw out the best of him, as Dior did?

The Raf Simons touch was immediately evident in the very first look. Or, should we say clutch? Some sort of a top was worn and hand-held in the front, like a stole. It was as if the wearer, in a haste, had no time to put it on properly, and to secure it, had to clutch it close to her heart. It was rather intriguing since it had nothing to do with ensuring modesty. Later, coats too were sort of shrugged on and clutched at the lapels—as if for dear life (possibly appropriate in 2020!), a gesture Miuccia Prada herself had adopted. It too was evocative of what Mr Simons had the models do for Jil Sander in 2012, his last showing for which he received a standing ovation. Then came those full skirts, those pajamas-like tunics-and-pants, and those once-“ugly” prints, and we were jolted back into a world that can’t not be Prada.

What is more recognisable than the Prada triangle? Increasingly taking a more prominent position on the clothes, the logo, this time, was larger than any we remember. Surprisingly, we didn’t dislike the current Prada triangolo use as we did before. Now in fabric, and enlarged, and fastened like a codpiece for the cleavage, the Prada triangle was like an ancient Chinese xiang nang (香囊 or small fragrance satchel)—more exquisite than the unbearable monograms flooding the luxury market now.

That this Prada show was going to be the show of the season, we had no doubt. That this turned out to be infinitely pleasing, we were delighted. Clutching our T-shirt, we were happy to return to fashion again.

Photos: Prada

Miuccia Prada’s Last Collection

A quiet swan song

 

Prada SS 2021 MP1Prada’s latest collection as seen through the lens of Willy Vanderperre. Screen grab: Prada/YouTube

It is true that this is Miuccia Prada’s last. But it is not clear if this is her final collection as a solo design head. Ms Prada has not officially and publicly said anything. But in the show notes, photographer Juergen Teller mentioned this collection as her last. It was announced in February that Raf Simons will join Ms Prada as a co-designer. So, it is possible that she is not retiring. Yet.

Bowing out, Ms Prada chose to present something quiet, but not without the essence that made Prada an important brand in her tenure, an essence beautifully distilled. The clothes were presented in mostly industrial-ish settings through the lenses of five “creatives”, some of them photographers-turned-cinematographers: Willy Vanderperre, Juergen Teller, Joanna Piotrowska, Martine Sims, and Terrence Nance. These are artists with different views, but, sadly, the results, fell short of the strength of the clothes.

Prada SS 2021 MP2Juergen Teller’s interpretation of the season’s look. Screen grab: Prada/YouTubePrada SS 2021 MP3As seen by Joanna Piotrowska. Screen grab: Prada/YouTube

Like most of the luxury brands showing online the past two months, Prada’s five filmic contributions under the guise of The Show That Never Happened, did not quite happen either—they were just a quintet of shorts that collectively said nothing, except perhaps that the photographers/artists would have been better off sticking to static output. To be sure, reproducing Prada’s usually arresting runway shows and the alluring clothes in a form not yet thoroughly explored is hard, but it is not really fair to expect viewers to digest the equivalent of a first-year film school project. Prada has come this far and worked with the best this long to be interpreted as these meaningless works?

Willy Vanderperre opened the series with a fashion-show-like display that takes place in what could be a set for the next Saw (if anyone’s interested in its revival). Continuing with settings evocative of slasher flicks, Juergen Teller’s piece was filmed in an industrial space that Freddy Kruger might have been happy to lure his victims into. Here the clothes were seen at their clearest. The polish photographer Joanna Piotrowska created her video with odd actions and stationary moments that recalled Japanese horror movies. American artist Martine Syms shot in a cinema that also looked like a lecture theatre with models just before, and at the moment, they turned into zombies. Or, was that theatre of the absurd. The multi-hyphenate Terrence Nance’s attempt, with unspeaking people confronting A Thing, ended up looking like a trailer of a B-grade movie. Or is that just cool?

Prada SS 2021 MP4Martine Syms brings Prada into the cinema. Screen grab: Prada/YouTubePrada SS 2021 MP5Terrance Nance sports-themed suggestion. Screen grab: Prada/YouTube

Although the Prada collection was allowed to be communicated through multiple voices, the clothes delivered a clearer and more singular message. They seemed to say that this is what a world in crisis now needs. Ms Prada was on point when she said, “the value of our job—to create beautiful, intelligent clothes.” The beautiful and intelligent (smart enough, in fact, that she called them “machines for living”), especially, resonated. After an extended break from fashion and the world we knew, Prada offered a sense of certainty for uncertain times. These are clothes you know you’ll wear now and at all times in the future, not only when the bars open, when parties resume, and when fun can come rushing back.

Some people might consider the clothes austere, but we find the pared-down-to-the-essentials refreshing. The men get reliable, relaxed, close-fit suits, some in suiting fabrics, some in their signature nylon. The shirts look like as they should be, and not more. For the women, a mix of Fifties femininity and post-modern utility. The suits are exemplary and Zoom-ready, and the dresses are alluring and can stand the test of time, even the bow tied at the waist. Purists might consider the metal plague/logo superfluous—those positioned in the middle of the breastbone, right on the cleavage, make the bustier-bodices look like bum-bags re-purposed to cover the bust. But that, perhaps, is the quirk that attests to the believe—and appeal—that with Prada, nothing is as simple as it seems.

 

Two Distinctive Voices To Speak As One

Clearly, what Calvin Klein can’t appreciate, Prada can. What sweet sounds will Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons produce?

 

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Prada has announced what might be the most powerful pairing in fashion today. And unexpected, too. Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons will be jointly designing the Prada collections from spring/summer 2021 onwards. Two strong voices—not entirely dissimilar yet so unalike—co-designing as a working arrangement is not groundbreaking. There are designing couples such as Luke and Lucie Meier (Jil Sander) ; Christophe Lemaire and Sarah Linh Tran (Lemaire); Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler; and, on our own soil, Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee (Nuboaix). But Ms Prada is not married to Mr Simons. What bedfellows would they make?

Prada has been the singular vision of one clear-sighted woman. As a designer, Ms Prada always follows her (march to, a physical move, is at odds with her persona) own drum beat, which in itself is often not any beat at all, or anything toe-tapping (popular), or mensural. Ms Prada, who was well ahead of everyone in the ‘ugly’ movement, sees what many other createurs do not. Or, refuse to? She has paid the price for not catching up. Even in sneaker collaborations, she was many moons late. While still critically lauded, Prada isn’t drawing the crowds like they used to. When was the last time you saw a line outside a Prada store? That’s not to say the brand isn’t still compelling. It just means that there is space and merchandise for true fans.

The Belgian has, of course, worked with the Italian before. Well, sort of and briefly. Between 2005 and 2012, Mr Simons was the creative director of Jil Sander. At that time of his appointment, Jil Sander was owned by the Prada Group. It was acquired by the London-based Change Capital Partners in 2006 and then, two years later, sold to Japan’s Onward Holdings (also owner of Rochas, Chalayan, Woo Young Mi, and others) via its European subsidiary Gibo Co (also a manufacturer for brands such as Marc Jacobs, John Galliano, Michael Kors, and others). It was reported that Ms Prada’s husband Patrizio Bertelli was first to approach Mr Simons in 2005 with a job offer at Jil Sander, and he proposed again when Mr Simons left Calvin Klein.

PQ Feb 2020

Before anyone could peddle succession theories, Ms Prada was fast to illuminate to the media that she intends to continue designing. At the same time, Mr Simons is said to be offered a “lifetime” contract. If true, he’d be the only designer after Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel to enjoy such an uncommon pact. But Mr Lagerfeld had free reign to do as he pleases while Mr Simons would have to co-create. This, however, could also reflect Mr Simons’s known disdain for the fashion system and the musical chairs that have been played at luxury houses. In what BOF described as a “secretive conference for select press”, Mr Simons was quoted saying, ““Miuccia and I had a conversation about creativity in today’s fashion system. And it brought me to open dialogue with many designers, not just Mrs Prada. We have to re-look at how creativity can evolve in today’s fashion system.”

Two-as-one the solution? But, how will the two “co-design?” How does a duo with very different minds share “equal responsibilities for creative input and decision-making”, as stated in the official Prada statement on the pairing? It may work, but to what degree of success? Ms Prada may have introduced some of the most influential looks of the past 31 years, but in the recent, have not exactly matched the aesthetical punch seen (and felt) at other houses. Mr Simons was able to make his mark at Jil Sander and Dior—marvelously, it should be added—but his tenure at Calvin Klein, which closer mirrored his own visual and cultural obsessions, could hint at the importance of chemistry and affinity with a brand.

That’s not to say there’s no tacit understanding and mutual appreciation between the two designers. It has, in fact, been reported that more than being one-time employer and employee, both are friends. But creative temperament has a strange way of coming between people or hamper the creative process itself. When one’s vision is more compelling and relevant than the other’s, how will they square? This is the first time Prada has enlisted an outsider to share the creative reign. If you recall, when Donatella Versace tapped talents from outside her own studio for Versus (conceived by Gianni Versace as a “gift” to his sister), it didn’t last. Christopher Kane (2009—2012), JW Anderson (2013—2014), and Anthony Vaccarello (2014—2016) were, at best, guest designers. None was able to put the shine back to the faded glory that was Versus.

Some speculated that it was probably hard to work with women designers who have very specific tastes and are possibly inflexible when it comes to aesthetical/creative differences. In that respect, could it be even harder to shape the will of Ms Prada, she who started the brand’s ready-to-wear line in 1989, and knows it only too well? As one fashion observer said to SOTD, “Miuccia has a certain level of ‘trend’ (practically her own), a certain amount of novelty and definitely change for each season. Those things are not Raf”. Who will come up tops? We look forward to Milan Fashion Week, come September.

Photo: (top) cameramoda.it

The Devil Is In The Skirt

Prada once again shreds what we think is elegant

 

Prada AW 2020 P1

You’d have to give it to Miuccia Prada for shifting the conversation to the skirt. Again. Now that even men wear them, what more issues can we skirt—actually, encircle—without sounding like we’re raising more social/political/gender questions in what’s essentially an ever shape-shifting sphere that is fashion? Ms Prada is known as an “intellectual” and that she was reported to have said that women can be “strong and feminine at the same time” does not mean there is an urgent need to read, once again, a message of empowerment into the clothes, especially the skirts. By now, women are able to wear whatever they want, skirts too, regardless of the shape or the amount of fabric that goes into their making.

The focus on skirts this season appears, to us, as additional emphasis to an already impressive body of skirt designs, and less about the power—now surely an antiquated obsession—a wearer can yield in them. Ms Prada had already impressively stated her case, as seen in the 2004/05 travelling exhibition Waist Down, a display that Cathy Horyn had described as “not burdened by self-reference or gloat”. Ms Prada has never shied away from skirts as an old-fashioned garment or something women should be emancipated from to assert their modern femininity. In fact, she practices what she preaches, faithfully showing skirts, which she told The New York Times to be ”my T-shirt”, and mostly appearing in them at the end of the Prada show, which, she, conversely, does not this time.

Prada AW 2020 G1Prada AW 2020 G2

But what else can she do to skirts that she has not already? Look to what cafes used to put up at entrances in place of the air curtain? Or the car wash, hence the name of the skirt that is supposed to be inspired by those plastic, panelled dividers? While watchful individuals may think this introduction a little belated for Prada since “The Car Wash Skirt Is The Fall Trend You Never Knew You Needed”, declared Huntington Post (and other media outlets) in 2015, Ms Prada, as we know, does not succumb to trends or designs to meet anyone’s expectations. Or, desires. A car wash skirt may be nice to look at but do you really desire one? What if the panels are decorated, with sequins and beads?

The swing of the skirts bring to mind those worn in the ’20s. And although they would show considerable skin at some point of wearing, Ms Prada is somehow able to make them prim. And, that tired word associated with the house, lady-like. Or, probably for some, executive. If car wash panels are not your thing, how about fringing? Surely those are sexy? Actually, not. Prada and sexy are like chalk and cheese: they just don’t mix, not when you team it with a belted, slightly oversized blazer (belatedly). Other than those with parallel panels and strings, there are skirts that are draped at one side, of maxi length, and that are sheer so as to show whatever one wishes to reveal beneath (not necessarily underpants).

Prada AW 2020 G4

A Prada collection isn’t quite the same without the eff-what-you-may-think quirkiness. Even a diaphanous tank dress is off-beat rather than suggestive. Or, a knit jumper with fringing in the front, across the bust, is teasing rather than proper. How the clothes all come together is refreshing, too: one cropped shell top, fringed at the neckline and shoulders, and hem, goes over a sleeveless shirt and a tie (yes, the neck wear many men are abandoning except Donald Trump) and them teamed with a car wash skirt. Or, pyjamas—what we know here to be samfus—with Prada’s graphic, skyward facing flowers. Or, Interesting arm-revealing layering is achieved by pairing a conventional vest over a near-capped-sleeve blouse.

Some members of the media call Prada’s looks “power glam”. Prada, in their PR material, describe them as “surreal glamour”, which, by their own admission, “mirror the pluralism and complexity of female identities.” That sounds to us like ideas the guys won’t get. Try showing the “surreal” to a guy! Not that appealing to men has been the mission of Prada’s blending of so many elements that encourage not the male gaze. In fact, Prada may be considered the earliest man-repelling label. It is hard to imagine women wearing the blazer version of the puffer to a hot date. Again, therein lies the appeal of the brand: geeky and goofy can be in the aesthetical equation. And those irresistible, feminine skirts.

Photos: Prada

 

Urban Characters

…encircling a man on a horse. But don’t take anything literally. It’s Prada

 

20-01-15-21-01-30-373_deco.jpgPrada has always been concerned with attitudes, consumption, or the state of the world than fashion itself. It does not succumb to trends—we don’t remember it did. If anything they show turns out to be trendy, coincidence is more likely than calculation. The Prada man, defined from the first collection in 1993, hitherto seems more inclined to express his outlook on the changing world he lives in than through clothes per se. Sure, Miuccia Prada has made certain clothing uniquely Prada—the relaxed suits, the retro coats, the camp shirts—but they do not place the wearer on trend-specific grounds. Yet, you know he’s a creature of fashion, uniquely so.

This season, that indefinable fashion man appears. He’s of the modern world, but he is also a part of the world of art, of the affluent, of the countryside, hipsterdom, of corporate life, of blockchain, of lounging, of clubbing, of social media, of whatever that now makes a man a man. Watching the presentation, show-goers look down into a piazza, which could be like how the audience once viewed the action at the Colosseum. Could this too have been a The Matrix moment, when the Neos of the world avoids the Agents in a sea of brisk-waking humanity?

Prada Men AW2020 G1Prada Men AW2020 G2.jpg

We admit we are reading too much into a collection that may not have been conceived for decoding. Well, we don’t  know what that cardboard sculpture of a man on a horse means either. But does that that really matter? Do men communicate the same ideas as Miuccia Prada when they don the clothes she designs? The thing is, Prada’s collection seduces the mind. It send signals to the brain, rather than the heart, and leaves a clear message: we want the clothes; we want to look like that!

That, to us, mean a certain veering off the standard, the classic, the recognisable, but not teleporting to another planet. We like that the suits are unmistakable, yet not one that you are expected to wear to a boardroom meeting, untethered to a digital world. We like the coats that are a little large and boxy, but not to the point that you could be mistaken for a filial son unwilling to discard the clothes he inherited from his father. Or, a member of a delegate bound for a UN meeting. We like the mis-match, off-beat styling—a sort of Pee-wee-Herman-found-modern-fashion vibe. We like the pajama-styles, with those repeated-pattern prints only Prada dares to propose and present; we’d wear them to that boardroom meeting!

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And there are the colours—not your Arrow shirt palette. Rather, those that seem picked from a chart for wall paint. It is totally imaginable seeing Miuccia Prada selecting colours from that than from a Pantone guide, just as she had from wallpaper swatches for prints. The orange (or burnt sienna?), the greens, the blues in cool tones that, when mixed, appear deeper and bolder, and even a tad mismatched, which make them even more appealing because the energy transmitted have the same potency and calm as, say, an Edward Hopper painting. That they are welcome alternatives to only-all-black-is-truly-fashionable underscore how the chromatically off-beat too can sit alongside the sooty and glum to communicate sartorial edge.

This collection shows Prada to be in fine form. Typical of the brand (which will bring a smile to fans), there’s the nod to the past just as there is the embrace of the present, or the sportif and the semi-formal, the nondescript and the eye-catching, the rural and the urban, the skinny and the oversized, the sleeved and the sleeveless the plain and the plaid, the cool and the goofy. Enough extremes to ensure a guy in 2020 does not need to choose the mainstream.

Photos: Prada

The Primness Of Prada

Is this the elegance the world is waiting for?

 

Prada SS 2020 P1.jpg

Miuccia Prada, the mother of modest dressing, has returned to the proper and the tailored, not that she has ever left them. But this season, there is more than sufficient pieces in the collection of refined, suited, almost other-era elegance to considered them core. But this isn’t the lady-like, Park Avenue-princess tastefulness that she was once famous for and had built the brand’s RTW on; this is far more calibrated for the post-#metoo era, as exemplified by Freja Beha, who opened the show, wearing a conservative pairing of long-sleeved polo shirt and a narrow skirt, with almost no makeup, looking positively the Queen of Cool herself.

Ms Beha was not the only model who wore makeup that looks un-made up. The rest too, and with hair—in a bob—looking so unstyled (side-parted and tucked behind the ears) that the do could have been fashioned after, not Anna Wintour, but mainland Chinese schoolgirls of the turbulent 1930s Shanghai, such as Rene Liu Ruoying (刘若英) as Ying’Er (英儿) in the 2000 film Fleeing by Night (夜奔, ye ben), willful, defiant of bourgeoisie beauty, and with pre-revolutionary zeal. Could this reflect Ms Prada as a political science student and a once-proclaimed communist?

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It is, in fact, this properness that appeals to us, if only because it is so rarely seen these days. Or, unappreciated. Miuccia Prada, who is not known to succumb to normative ideas of what’s fashionable, appealing, or sexy, not only revives the smart, almost geeky look that set Prada apart during the early years of its women’s wear line, but does so without nodding at the prissy. The clothes look grown up, which is refreshing in a market that seems keener and keener to cater to mostly the young or not old enough to be issued a credit card.

The silhouette is generally lean, body-skimming, and calculated to stay clear of exaggeration. Take the skirts. They sit relatively high at the waist, but not that high; they are longish, but not that long; they are slim, but do not imitate a pencil. When decorative detail is required, the appliques of fern placed on each side of the front, for example, has the effect of graphic boldness, without looking excessive; their megaphylls offering the curvy grace of paisleys. When jackets are required, Prada has them with expressive, notched lapels in the width of shoulders that Annie Hall would possibly appreciate.

Prada SS 2020 G3.jpg

Unfortunately, Prada, the fashion label, isn’t what it used to be. With an unimpressive stock performance and a generally downbeat retail climate, plus store closures, even in a vibrant city such as Hong Kong (the brand will, next year, exit Russell Street, that, according to the South China Morning Post, is “the most expensive shopping address on the planet”; granted, the on-going protests that started in June has affected luxury businesses across the board), Prada seems unable to attract regular shoppers who can make the brand ring with the same resonance as that generated by those who embrace the undying dad-shoe craze.

What works against Prada is a dearth of new customers, those willing to give dressed-up sans T-shirt and jeans a chance. Looking around us, it’s hard to find women who turn out this way, or in a chic that suggests the opposite of street. Even further afield, not Kim K, and certainly not off-duty Gigi and Bella. Even those who want not the unsolicited attention of the opposite sex do not wish such sexy-lite style on themselves. Prada’s beautiful clothes, not just on the catwalk, but withal as they appear in-store, are perhaps too composed, too ideal, and, ultimately, too distant from the lives of those who want slouchy/oversized causal or off-beat retro-cool, or hip-hop-star-provocative, and a generous dose of trash.

Photos: Prada

Window Pain

When fashion and feminism meet on the storefront

Dior store front Oct 2018

This is a Dior window we have never thought we’d see. It is a print of a collage that includes the text “WOMEN” and “CES’T NON NON NON ET NON (“that’s no no no and no”, which is also on sweaters and other tops of the autumn/winter collection)” amid torn images taking prominence over the clothes. And somewhat hidden away from the full-cap messages, two other words peeked: “MEN” (afterthought?) and “YOUTHQUAKE”, which prompted an SOTD reader to remark to us, “Which era are they in?” And, on the window design, “Stupendous banality, beyond vapid”.

Dior is on a roll. After this season’s uninspired advertising campaign, now this lame window. Frankly, we did not expect Dior’s political stance to come this far, or to the storefront. No Dior designer, as we can recall (please correct us if we are wrong), has worn their political convictions on their sleeves or the front of their T-shirt. Neither had any emblazoned messages on wallpaper to be plastered on the brand’s store frontage. Christian Dior himself may have been a political science student (at the École des Sciences Politiques in Paris) and his New Look—with their extravagant use of fabrics—may be seen as a reaction against the rationing of cloth during World War II, but it is hard to say that Monsieur Dior was a ringing political voice.

It is not clear if Maria Grazia Chiuri is a political creature or a political opportunist. Or both. It seems that being the first women designer in Dior’s 70-plus-year history isn’t enough a political statement, she sees it necessary to lend her voice to the causes she believes in. Nothing wrong with that, but how effective can one be as fashion designer and political activist? Dior’s “YOUTHQUAKE”-inspired window display barely engages the political discourse nor offers a social mirror to the real vexations of the world. Despite its social message, it is still patently brand communication, made more unmistakable by the recurrence of the DIOR logo when the store is already well identified.

Dior store front P2 Oct 2018

You’d think if there’s anyone who would take their political conviction or feminist zeal to the fashion front, it would be the one-time communist Miuccia Prada, who, like Monsieur Dior, studied political science (graduating with a PhD at the University of Milan), who, according to popular telling, wore Yves Saint Laurent to protest. But Ms Prada, also a known feminist, has not succumbed to sloganeering to get her message across. As a designer, she used design instead.

Politically-correct/aware dressing of body and mind is, of course, trending now. That fashion should be embroiled in the current state of world affairs is emblematic of how passions and emotions are now easily and deeply stirred in people on either side of the socio-political divide. Fashion designers using their clothes (rather than storefront) as medium of political expression isn’t a Trump-era trend. One of the pioneers of political-slogan-as-fashion-statement—yes, emblazoned on T-shirts, Ms Chiuri—was Britain’s Katherine Hamnett. In the late ’80s, her messages were boldly printed on the entire front of T-shirts to be unmissable, although it is not certain if those who copped the tops shared her beliefs or were just interested in text on tees. In the UK’s fashion community, Ms Hamnett wasn’t alone. On and off, Vivienne Westwood, too, used similar methods to draw attention to what she felt fervidly about. Interestingly, women designers are the ones more inclined to speak their mind through their clothes. Ms Hamnett and Ms Westwood, however, wasn’t merely going afloat with the current of the their time. Theirs were ardent beliefs independent of social trends.

Dior’s collaged tear-sheets of newsprint images of women protesting in the ’60s with placards declaring “Mini skirts forever” (and such) are perhaps too distant and too grassroots for a luxury brand, and, thus, appear to be token engagement, especially when the windows and their encircling spaces offer little to shoppers that could arouse the mind. Bottom line: is it meaningful? As Miuccia Prada once said to Document Journal, “Someone who is superficial gets only the façade”.

Photo: Galerie Gombak