Impeccable Ease At Prada

Miuccia Prada and RAF Simons really show that they do not have to try so hard

It is hard to achieve the balance between accessible and sophisticated. Harder still to place intellectual and sexy side by side. And even more so to temper conventional dressmaking with creative tweaks that could be construed as finishing oversight. Prada has found that harmony. Even in the co-working of Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons. There is not just balance between the two of the world’s most forward practitioners of their craft; there is synergy too. And admirable—and appreciable as well—is how easy both make their output appear. Nothing is ever over. ’Effortless ease’ may sound like a phrase Boomers use, but it is germane to what Prada has achieved and continues to be.

Ms Prada said in a statement that, in this collection, there is the attempt to free the garments of “unnecessary complication”. She added, “the clothes are about simplicity, with no unnecessary complication.” While they are indeed simple (has Prada ever been otherwise?), the designers did not take the edge off the clothes. After what was seen in New York and London, Prada’s simplicity is the proverbial breath of fresh air. Or, petrichor, that welcome smell after a rain. If one could put a aromatic note to Prada’s collections, that is it. But, have we not caught a whiff of this before? This almost-nothingness has been discerned in the air of Prada’s runway (does it smell like CDG’s Zero?) before in the Prada Fondazione. Ms Prada told The Cut in 2019 that the Resort 2020 collection was “all about simplicity” (!) and that “simplicity is a provocation; simplicity is rebellion.”

However often Prada reprises their simplicity or exercises their restraint, they would not leave a line that straight. The clothes this time are supposed to reveal the life spent in them, but not in conspicuous ways, underscoring the fan belief that with Prada, there’s always more than meets the eye, to the extent that only a close examination of the selected pieces in the store satisfies even the feeblest curiosity. This season’s creased bust-dart on slip dresses, warped slits of skirts, ragged neckline of cardigans, crinkles on suits, random pinching on the waists of short dresses, the snagged necklines and sagged hemlines of shifts—they begged a visit to the boutiques for their close-up. And one item too deserves in-person view: those long johns with shirt collars and cuffs. Are they the answer to this season’s underclothes-no-more singlets?

Since its womenswear debut in 1988, Prada has been the consistently talked about label following each showing during Milan Fashion Week, even when ordinarily the brand hardly draws a queue at their stores (certainly not here). Ms Prada told The New York Times back in 2013, “I hope they don’t just buy because there is a logo, but because the object is relevant to them.” In fashion weeks increasingly overflowing with meretricious clothes, Prada’s hyper-fuss-free pieces are honest, relatable, and definitely relevant. Even when sheerness is employed as part of the brand’s fascination with opacity, contrasts, and textures, it comes, as it does now, without the evocation of the sleazy. Simply put, Prada just can’t serve anything visually rude. And therein, for many, lies their strength and enduring influence.

Screen shot (top) and photos: Prada

Return To Lean

…with many pairs of shorts. Prada looks at its house classics and it’s a formidable show of form

Prada has always marched to their own recognisable drum of not necessarily blazing tempo, but clearly with challenging drum patterns. With Raf Simons onboard, the drill is even more gripping, especially when both Miuccia Prada and Mr Simons go back to what both of them do very well: a punchy groove of minimalist tailoring, now lensed through two pairs of eyes on a single brand. Milan this season is seeing many houses going back to what they do best (even not). At Prada, too, but with the contribution of Raf Simons, it’s double the delight. That they should present what they do best—the dressed-up, the normcore, and the quirky—is a palpable trust in their own abilities-as-one than any revisit to the past.

First up or out, the black suits. These are evocative of those both designers used to do (and, in fact, have been doing on and off): generally slim-fitting but not tight. The jackets are single or semi-double breasted, with natural shoulders that are not dropped (or extended) and arms not constricted. The pants are skinny and sometimes cropped to above the Cuban boots, sometimes to the bottom, with nary a break. The silhouettes are, therefore, lean, so too are the rest to come. Even the T-shirts or the knit tops are not boxy and baggy. The shape of the body (Prada still prefers skinny boys) is not obsured.

And then the looks shift—to shorts. Many shorts! And also worn with the boots. This season, the shorts are not too brief. One recurrent pair is a leather style, sans waistband, with two zips that flank the centre seam (there is no fly), ending at crotch level, and with diagonal welt pockets, their openings set apart. These are worn with almost everything: sleeveless scrubs-looking tops, skinny jumpers, sweater-knit tees, woven pullovers and shirts, and many, many outers, sometimes two coats at a go. Could this be Prada coming as close as possible to guys wearing a dress, after still resisting non-bifurcated bottoms?

Prada has never been strictly sombre when it comes to their colours. This season, while the palate is quite muted, there are some, mostly in the house dusty shades and the occasional pastel. Standouts are the use of gingham and other checks, especially those light floaty overcoats worn with the ease of a lab coat. The Prada triangle, too, appears again. Since Mr Simons’s arrival at the house, Prada has made clever use of its its three-sided logo in ways that are not the black ones we see on bags. This season, the inverted isosceles is a mere perimeter using rickrack, those flat, braided, zigzag trims that are very much associated with home sewing (they were frequently used, we remember, over smocking) before the advent of computerised sewing machines that can do fancy stitches. It’s prettiness without being too pretty.

Prada collections often escape easy descriptions. And this time, it is so again. While the many coats worn over shorts might be evocative of the get-up of a flasher (or whatever else perverse you can think of), much of the clothes are more wearable than they appear, even the round-neck trucker and the car coats that would be, in the past, considered feminine. There is always the fine balance between the tailored and the relaxed, the refined and the off-kilter, the tasteful and the not quite. And in the lively mix or ‘Choice’, as the collection is named, easy does it.

Screen shot: prada.com. Photos: gorunway.com

Starting From A Singlet

Prada’s inner garment of what was once men’s undershirt is truly the freshest back-to-basics new beginning

Halfway through this season’s Prada show, Dave Gahan’s voice was heard singing “Let me see you stripped/Down to the bone” in the Martin Gore-penned Stripped (from Depeche Mode’s 1986 album Black Celebration). The song is one of four (the other three Leave in Silence, I feel You, and Behind the Wheel from other albums) that soundtracked the show, staged just hours after Russia aberrantly attacked Ukraine. It is doubtful that the war, predicted months earlier, influenced the Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons, but the aviator jackets and mannish coats that could be those worn over army uniforms had a premonitory feel about them. But it is the strip down to the decidedly mannish white singlet (‘vest’, in the UK)—traditionally worn as undershirt, and, yes, under military accoutrements too—that oddly underpins the magnificence and refinement of Prada’s autumn/winter 2022 season.

Who’d guess that Prada, still associated with the lady-like no matter how subversive they get, would not be using a camisole when an inner garment is required. A boyfriend’s top trending very soon? And, a re-acquainting with men’s underclothing brands such as Gunze and Schiesser? Prada has always leaned on the masculine (to the disapproval of tai-tais, who, as a stylist told us with a tinge of regret in his voice, “do not like Raf Simons”), but that inclination is always tempered with something feminine, as it is now. The ribbed singlet, while in some looks is worn singly, often goes under a sheer shift (sometimes underpants showing) or over a slim, horizontally paneled skirt. It is this visual dichotomy that Prada, to us, is often ahead of and leagues apart from others.

Increasingly, the partnership between Ms Prada and Mr Simons looks back at the brand’s ‘codes’ and bringing them back for re-imagining and re-enjoying. But they are not reprised wholesale, as Mr Simons says in a statement. “There are never direct recreations, but there is a reflection of something you know, a language of Prada.” Those notorious ‘ugly’ Prada prints of the ’90s, for example, in “puke” colours return in the form of knit sweaters, and paired with those narrow tri-paneled skirts. There is a veritable play of textures of fabrics, and density as well, which makes the compositions delightfully more complex than they really are. Or those full skirts, now even fuller, that Ms Prada herself is synonymous with. But the “language” that Mr Simons speaks of may not communicate to that many women here. The silhouettes, for many, is not feminine enough—the boxiness, the wide shoulders (even on the dresses), and the lack of the constricted embrace of curves! But if Kim Kardashian, attending the Prada show for the first time, can be seen in a baggy, leather, men’s boiler suit, why can’t more women here re-examine their supposed distaste for Prada?

For sure, there’s a palpable presence of Mr Simons’s distinct hand in the collection. He does look at womenswear quite differently, unlike, say, Kim Jones, for whom a more traditional approximation of feminine gravitas is what, to him, Fendi needs. The music of the Prada show again: they seem to be a selection that is more in keeping with Mr Simons’s own taste than what the house of Prada is usually known for. The harder, more industrial sound, more techno-retro, too, recalls the selections used in Mr Simons on shows. It does, however, cast Prada in a seductive past/present light, imbuing the clothes with a need-them-right-away nowness. As Mr Grahan sang in Dresses in Black (also from Black Celebration, but not used in the show), “As a picture of herself/She’s a picture of the world/A reflection of you, a reflection of me/And it’s all there to see if you only give in to the fire within.” That’s Prada, and we agree.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Prada

With Actors, To Entice Pursuit

Prada’s autumn/winter 2022 presentation includes “10 globally-renown Hollywood stars”

Kyle MacLachlan opening the Prada show

Jeff Goldblum closing the show

Prada courting Hollywood actors is nothing new. Many will remember the autumn/winter 2012 show: on the red carpet with patterns resembling those of the Navajo (although the stadium setting could have been some place in Red Soviet) were William Dafoe, Adrien Brody, and Gary Oldman. These were not your typical matinee idols. For cinema fans, they were (and still are) the best character actors of both sides of the Atlantic. And then, now, there are ten: Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Asa Butterfield, Jeff Goldblum, Damson Idris, Kyle MacLachlan, Tom Mercier, Jaden Michael, Louis Partridge, Ashton Sanders and Filippo Scotti. Once again, not your average leading men. Prada would never use Tom Cruise!

“Actors are interpreters of reality, employed to echo truth through their portrayals,” Prada tells us. The reality of an actor, whoever he portrays is, of course not necessarily our reality. But in choosing older actors for the runway, is Prada also saying something about experience as part of that reality? Fashion, of course, knows no age. And Prada’s menswear have often shown that to be true, as seen in how Jeff Goldblum has embraced the brand, pre-pandemic. Even the pick of Morale… You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling from The Human League’s first album in 1979, Reproduction, to soundtrack the show seems to target an older, post-disco pack that would no doubt instantly hum to “You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips/And there’s no tenderness like before in your fingertips (yes, originally sung by the Righteous Brothers in 1964—even earlier!)”.

Co-designers Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons are not literalists. Their references are often far more oblique. While both do look back, they do not bring to the fore a wholesale past. As per their collection communiqué: “Eschewing hierarchy, a dignity is proposed to pragmatic clothing, uniforms of reality, rematerialized in precious leather and silk tech as a mark of respect and value“. It is hard to imagine Prada not doing anything pragmatic, but there is always something a tad subversive to the pragmatism, even deviant. In case you are not too impressed with the spot-on tailoring, they’ve sneaked in something small, but so unexpected: dangling earrings! Sure, these are not in the chandelier style (they’re mostly geometrically-shape charms), but some are long enough to be, hmmm, shoulder dusters!

That is probably as far a feminine touch as Prada would go. Definitely no skirts. Or, should that be not yet?. In fact, we think this is one of the most masculine collections from Prada. The leather outers, with their hulky shoulders—they have an almost gangster quality about them, even in red. An SOTD reader messaged us to say that they reminded him of Claude Montana. Perhaps, but we were thinking of Demna (now, like his new best friend, going by one name) designing the costumes for a John le Carré movie (even the unlikely George Smiley!). And those one-pieces, with their suggestions of the the boiler room—workwear cool as sexy as military pomp. When Miuccia meets Raf.

Screen shots and photos: Prada

The Pleasure of Prada

Without black bras, just underwired bra cups hidden under knitted polos

By now, midway through Milan Fashion Week (after New York and then London), we know ‘sexy’ is a big theme. The navel is exposed, the bra is free to breathe. It is, therefore, interesting—to say the least—to see how Prada would interpret the seemingly inescapable post-pandemic (we are being optimistic here) sexy. This is Prada’s first IRL show after Raf Simons joined Miuccia Prada as co-designers last year. But it isn’t a one-city show even when it is a one-city fashion week. What happens in Milan does not stay in Milan. In fact, it is happening elsewhere too—Shanghai, to be exact. Yes, two shows were happening at the same time, for the first time in fashion week history. On both sides, large video screens, set in portrait orientation, revealed what was happening on the other, and how the same outfit on two different woman would look. Prada is Prada, no matter where you are.

Against a soundtrack of the neo-sexy speak-sing (not rap!) Misericord by the Brighton post-rock/ambient duo Insides, comprising Julian Tardo & Kirsty Yates, Prada shows that sexy could be something not seen elsewhere. This is sexy that won’t score on the Met Gala red carpet (or whatever the year’ colour is) and at the Video Music Awards’. Neither will it win any star/celebrities extra pages in magazines dedicated to such stuff. Prada’s premise for sexy is simple: the mini-shirt. But these aren’t your mother’s mini-skirts nor the denim shreds you are used to wearing. These are more tailored, better shaped, cuter. And what is in front is not the same as in the back. There are the short-front-long-backs and the many with a quirky train! Could this be for whoever has the ends to roll the wearer in? A pre-mating ritual? Or just excess, non-functional fabrics waiting to be caught between MRT doors?

As impractical as these misplaced selendangs are, they are the little off-beat touches that often make many followers regard Prada with wonder. We watched the show again. And again. Each time, the lengths of fabric in the rear are not the same. Some appear to be a length of silk fashioned into a skirt, with a centre-back seam, leaving the rest of the fabric tailing; some appear to emerge from the waist, like the 15th century’s narrow aprons shifted to the rear; and some one side of the tail of a flat bow left to float as the wearer strides forward. Amazingly, not one model trips or has the fabric panel caught ungainly between the legs! These are far more appealing (and camp?) than beauty pageant sashes.

And the skirts go with almost anything too. Ms Prada and Mr Simons team them with sweaters, shell tops (with boning to mimic—but not effect—corsets), shirts, leather motorcycle jackets, and oversized car coats with lacing as fastening. The tops, in fact, are especially strong this season. A sure hit: sweater-knit pullovers and polos, with under-wired bras seemingly molded onto the fabric. That’s sexy! The one-pieces are standouts too, particularly the waisted shifts. Appealing are those with square necks and fold-down flaps along the horizontal that are in the shape of Prada’s inverted triangle logo, these days used to ingenious effects. Minimal, Prada is also saying, can be sexy too.

In their third outing as co-designers, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons proved that two together can design one brand. And that their ideas can come together synergistically to great and desirable effects, allowing the brand’s strength in simple shapes, unexpected details, and off-beat colours to not wane. For the customary end-of-show bow, both designers appear and receive the applause in Milan. Would it not be terrific if two of them can be in the different cities in which the shows were staged?

Screen grab (top) and photos: Prada

Prada’s Rompers For Men

And other arm- and leg-baring pieces for the spring/summer 2022 season

The end of the tunnel is the sea. That’s Prada’s message of positivity during a pandemic, already suggested in this season’s eye-catching pop-ups. Models walked in an angular, red-lacquered, purpose-built passageway that ends in the open air of the sea. Prada calls this the “Tunnel to Joy”. The emotion isn’t so palpable, but you could almost smell the coastal salt. In the first frame of the model stepping outside, the camera pans to the ground and leather slip-ons strike the soft sand. The contrast with the red hard floor prior is immediately discernable. Come out to the outdoor (it is the seaside of Sardinia). Here, you’ll be free. Isn’t freedom the key message of Milan Fashion Week? Even with the radiant reemergence in mind, Prada has resisted the IRL fashion show. Yet, its half city, half seashore presentation isn’t bereft of the energy missed by those who have not been able to attend large-scale physical events. It has retained the sleekness, minimalism, and the vim of Prada shows.

And what do you wear to meet joy? First up, rompers, one of the key products in the likes of The Editor’s Market. For men, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons bring together shirts and shorts as onesies (top pic), all in what appears to be the shirting fabric of cotton poplin. To be sure, these are not shortened jumpsuits. They have the ease and playfulness of rompers—garments initially associated with children’s clothes. Ensuring that their leisure intention isn’t mistaken, prints are incorporated: ’50s-looking tattoo-illustrations spread randomly across. If you want something more traditionally masculine, there are a couple with bold, vertical, unbalanced stripes. Next, there are the abbreviated ‘skorts’—skirt-meets-shorts combo—that, for any wearer, are half way to donning an actual skirt. But it isn’t immediately clear, while we watched the show on our PC, if what is shown is a skirt over shorts or that the front panel hangs like an apron. Either way, the skirt component isn’t ambiguous.

There is a surprisingly large show of skin—invariably arms and a lot of legs (phew, no midriff! Well, one: he is, after all, going to the beach!). Out of the 39 looks, 33 feature shorts/skorts. We do not remember a Prada Men’s collection that had only six pairs of trousers (in the last spring/summer season—before Mr Simons came onboard—there were no shorts!). That’s just 15 percent of all the bottoms shown. Is that a prediction that men will not be buying longs next year or that they want to look like they’re in primary six all over again? For the past year, the loungewear that many people supposedly adopted is mostly associated with joggers. Even when shorts are ideal at-home wear, it is the trousers worn by runners after a run that have been in the spotlight. As guys slowly move away from the confines of WFH, could it be that shorts would be preferred, as play takes priority over professional pursuits? The potential mass adoption of shorts and the common leg-baring would no doubt bring immense joy to the environment-protection activist Ho Xiang Tian!

A Prada collection is not a Prada collection without the quirky pieces—even more, with Raf Simons in the picture. Items you would not find in an average bloke’s wardrobe: knitted mock-turtleneck bibs, square-neck tank tops, blousey sleeveless boat-neck tops, and floral hoodies. But perhaps most desirable are the accessories, in particular the head wear. The bucket hats will likely be the most trendy and trending. This season, they come with a longer triangular brim in the rear, like a bobby’s custodian helmet, worn front-to-back—and the chin straps too. Some of them have a usable triangular (coin?) pouch above that brim extension in the back (longer to shield the neck from the sun?), while others have slots in the sides to welcome the arms of sunglasses so that the eye wear may perch right on top of the head wear. Looks like, next summer, limps can go quite bare, but not heads!

Photos: Prada

At Prada, Paillettes Peek From Under Fur

The co-designers surprise and delight, making Prada possibly the best show of the Milan season

Prada, whatever (or, after all that) is said about it; however women reportedly do not appreciate their often boxy shapes, is still able to surprise, and perhaps, more importantly, delight. Heaven knows some of us need surprising and delighting. With Raf Simons onboard and together with Miuccia Prada, the partnership is proven to be formidable. The consensus is still out if the collections thus far—just three—are more Mr Simons or more Ms Prada, or if there is equal input from both sides. What Pradaness is, as a result, was poser of the last womenswear collection. Now we could also ask, what is Rafness? It is not an easy question to answer, even when we could clearly see Mr Simons’s deft hands in the designs. But does it matter if there is visible or palpable parity? This is a one plus one that equals much, much more.

Hints of what was to come in the womenswear were already there in the men’s January show. One particular item stands out: the jacquard knit. How a simple idea can be worked into so many aspects of the garments feeds the imagination and gives pleasure to the senses. In less deft hands, the knits—expanding beyond the long johns of the men’s collection—could have been deemed laughable cheesiness. But both designers have the ability to turn even the most banal (the more the merrier?) into elements that lend themselves easily to both elegance and quirkiness. The jacquard knits sport Prada’s love for off-beat patterns and equally unexpected colours. We love how they appear not just as individual garments and accessories and hosiery, but as details, such as collars, bodices, and lining. If one can have a spot of colour for interest, one can have the same with patterns too.

And that is why we always derive much pleasure and joy from a Prada show (this time in a Rem Koolhaas-designed confines that are almost identical to the men’s). Convention is not key to their presentation. Although this is not an IRL staging, it isn’t short on the energy that pre-pandemic shows projected. The models walk into rooms and the cameras trail them, allowing us to catch the details of the garments, or follow them, a la Tsai Ming-liang’s (蔡明亮) camerawork, from behind, like the model before. We can see the details paid to the back of the clothes, such as the inverted triangle—now without the Prada font—fashioned out of said jacquard knits. In such pursuit, we also see the models disappear into a dark ante-room, which we were later allowed in, where they, under strobe lights, went about what they do off-stage, as if unaware of the presence of a filming camera. They could move in the clothes!

It is hard to say where one might wear these clothes to. How do we categorise them? It is easy to say that those sequinned dresses could be for a party, but how many bashes or shindigs do we foresee even in the near future? It is said people want to have fun with fashion again and to dress up (lounge wear fatigue?), but Prada showed bodysuits, which seem the more fetching alternative to sweats. It is appreciable that regardless of how changed our shopping habits now are, Prada has kept the fashion aspects of the collection elevated, a mission that hasn’t waned since the birth of their women’s RTW in 1989. That the eyes can see things and pairings not witness before attest to Prada’s unrelenting commitment to not only innovation and creativity, but, ultimately, design. With Mr Simons onboard, it can get only more inspiring and the increasingly undervalued quality, exciting.

This collection isn’t for everyone—Prada has never tried to cater to every taste. Even their power suits that opened the show, worn with the sleeves pushed up as if the wearers are to embark on something laborious or, hopefully not, a fight, have a whiff of going against the power structures of fashion-consuming society or the increasingly constricted ideas of what is feminine style. We like that dresses can be worn with the (additional) ease of a pullover—the jacquard necklines and bodices see to that. Or that fur, although fake, need not look like cast-offs of wealthy women who amassed them in the ’70s and ’80s, or like they may incur the wrath of PETA. This is a collection that one either understands or does not. It isn’t conceived with the designers’ friends in mind. This has, to a degree, intellectual heft, but not without a sense of humour, and clearly not without a sense of fun.

Ultimately, Prada allows us to have taste, at a time when taste has become generic, social-media sensation, or, worse, “fashion girl-approved”. Or, to make us feel that it’s okay to like clothes that are not birthed from conventional thinking, or strictly from algorithms or sales data. That it’s really fine to align ourselves with a brand that is not under the grips of the past or the cromulent, to borrow from the world of The Simpsons. An SOTD reader, usually an admirer of more attention-grabbing or meretricious styles, texted us to say, “I even like Prada.” That can only be wonderful.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Prada

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