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

Clawed!

Raf Simon’s skeletal-wrist bracelet doubles as arm clasp. They are eerily beautiful

By Mao Shan Wang

Halloween is over. But a skeletal wrist is still making the news, delighting many who desire the grip of its spindly fingers. I don’t know about you, but this is one grab of the arm I do not the least mind, even in a crowded train! And for those of you celebrating Thanksgiving, that quieter transition to the madness that is Christmas, possibly just the accessory to have on your bicep to either delight relatives or annoy them. Bad fengshui? It sure would be a conversation starter. Studded with Swarovski crystals, this ‘Skeleton’ bracelet by Raf Simons looks to me to be the bling to have this festive season.

Frankly, I have had quite enough of the skeletal wrist’s other related bodily part: the skull. In fact, I don’t own anything bearing the bony framework of the head, even when they are similarly blinked out. Not for me the skull’s supposed status as the symbol of sub-cultures, desirable or not; even the outsider status the wearing of it supposedly bestows. By now the skull has lost all that. The skull is, to me, more Phillip Plein than Alexander McQueen, more Chomel than Chrome Hearts. And when it starts to appear in Ang Mo Kio market, I really wish some pirate would take it all back, whether underscored with crossbones or not.

But the skeletal wrist, that is newer. Raf Simons debuts this piece of accessory this season. And the beauty of it, apart from the glitteringly obvious, is that it can be worn on a wrist of flesh and skin, as well as on the arm as the above photo shows, like a sleeve garter, but you won’t look like a like a ragtime pianist! Yet, the Skeleton bracelet can be similarly worn to adjust the length of Mr Simons’s increasingly long sleeve lengths. The bracelet comes in two sizes, so that the guys can have one—or a pair—for themselves too (I’m not sure they would fit the developed arms of gym bunnies).

Wearing it on the wrist is somewhat predictable. Grab my arm, I’d say, even when it is bare. Given how dismal things still are in yet another (!) pandemic year, perhaps it is the shot in the arm that we really need?

Raf Simons skeleton bracelet, €940, is available online at historyofmyworld.com. Photo: Raf Simons

Non-Binary Finery

In a first season with no bifurcated bottom for even the guys, Raf Simons shows that a collection can be almost genderless

The first thing that catches our attention are the shorts. Or what we think are shorts, but they turn out to be quite different: they are not divide into legs. So these are skirts? Of course, it is increasingly apparently that men are welcoming non-bifurcated bottom and the like into their wardrobes, and Raf Simons seem to be catering to these guys (and those gals for whom pants are as dispensable). In fact, there are no trousers in the co-ed collection (or maybe there is just one?). Both men and women are attired to show off legs—if not entire limbs, definitely calves. Mr Simons, we do not think, is trying to feminise his menswear offering. They still look masculine, even when many of the pieces are mostly associated with womenswear. Yet these are clearly conceived and sized for a masculine body, not necessarily brawn. In fact, is doubtful a muscular fellow would look good in these somewhat vertically-linear clothes.

The skirts, to be sure, are not ‘skorts’. They also not too skirt-like, nothing similar even to, say, a tennis skirt. We are initially stumped because the silhouette of the skirts that are worn, at least on the men, are very similar to walking shorts—nothing micro about them either. Nearly all of them end at the knee. So do the tunic-like one-pieces. Is it appropriate to call them dresses, even after so many celebrities (American mostly, from what we have seen, not counting Harry Styles or Troye Sivan), are wearing them with some regularity now? To be certain, many folks—even Raf Simons customers—would not consider them synonymous with a male wardrobe. The boat neck with cap-sleeves or another, similar, but with a gathered neckline—could these be as all right, if not trendy, as they are for women, on whom the fall of the dresses, whether tunic or trapezoid, are a study in sophisticated simplicity? Or are they now simply more sophisticated on men?

Even the shirts are not spared elongate-to-skirt-lengths. But what’s particularly interesting are those that could have been a business shirt in a former life. From Arrow to allure? But these are not your company accountant’s button-downs, nor even Gordon Gekko’s contrast-collared dress-stripes. They are, for one, definitely larger, as if cut by a patterner who is anti-fit, but unlike, say, the boyfriend shirt, or what Dakota Johnson wore in 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey, these are not sized for someone else. The collar circumference is not too large and the shoulders do not drop too much, even when the sleeves are longer than the standard up-to-the-centre-back-of-your-hand, with the cuff unbuttoned. They are like hanfu sleeve length, and even come with comparable handfu cuffs: extra wide. Despite the shirts’ business vibe, they are styled to look more blouse/tunic/dress (take your pick), even under sweaters.

This spring/summer 2022 fashion week season sees the ushering in of The Swap, designers taking the place of their designing chum’s to interpret the other brand’s signature looks. Given that there is more than a mere whiff of Prada in the Raf Simons collection, is it possible that Miuccia Prada was given some dresses to design? Surreptitiously? The navy or black A-line one-pieces, with their definite shape, modest lengths, and school-uniform-proper, but not girly styling seem a direct leap out of Ms Prada’s distinctive playbook. That Mr Simons would be influenced by her inspiring co-designer at Prada is hardly surprising. But if there is one thing the world needs right now is less of the similar with the other.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Raf Simons

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

Teen No More

Is Raf Simons finally inspired by maturity?

Morse code signals of Kraftwerk’s Radio-Activity (or Radio-Aktivität), released in 1975, could have been a delightful hint of what the Raf Simons autumn/winter 2021 co-ed show might look like. But Mr Simons is never unsubtle. And definitely none of the retro-futuristic exuberance for him. Perhaps we were just thrilled to hear the familiar melody of what could be a remix of the remastered title track of the German composers’ first all-electronic album. When the show began, we saw a model emerge from a pentagonal tunnel, lit by running fluorescent lights. Our thinking was in overdrive. When the models walked into the movie-set-like Barenzaal, a power-plant-turn-event-space, we were certain we had thought too much. This was not going to be a collection inspired by The Looking Glass War.

The catchy electro-pop minimalism of Radio-Activity, perhaps, threw us off. We couldn’t really imagine Raf Simons set against Kraftwerk. (But who else could we have thought, Tate McRae?!) In 2015, an article in the Financial Times, enthused that “it is difficult to think of a band less inclined to noodle—and yet there’s also warmth and humour in their music”. Perhaps the same can be said of the clearly-intoned designs of Mr Simons, even when we couldn’t join the dots between the designer and the music. It is not the warmth of his tenure at Dior and not quite the humour of, say, Moschino, but there is—we did sense it—something warm and humorous. In fact, the oversized shapes that Mr Simons has been offering for a while now sometimes felt like a big joke, and you either get it or don’t. We do know, for sure, one person who does: Miuccia Prada.

The show is set in a former mine building, now known as C-Mine, in the former mining town of Genk, in the Limburg region of Belgium. Millennials of the party gen before COVID-19 might recognise in C-Mine, the building St James Powerhouse in HarborFront. The Barenzaal’s bunker-like industrial site somehow made us think that the Amphibian Man (The Shape of Water) might appear, rather than Mr Simons’s gorgeous, supple shapes. What struck us was a palpable omission of obvious youth, “solar” or not. These clothes seemed less gleaned from campuses than camps, or more specifically, the groups favouring the less conventional without looking, when dressed, like arrivistes embracing fashion for the first time, or for social-climbing attention.

People do grow up, so do fashion. Mr Simons said in the accompanying notes to the collection—“I don’t want to show clothes, I want to show my attitude, my past, present and future. I use memories and future visions and try to place them in todays world.” Unencumbered by the heritage or archive of a heritage-house-as-employer, Mr Simons was able to just hit the right notes, as he went on with not just marching to his own drum beat, but by striking the drum too. This collection had all the hallmarks of shapes and details that fans love, whether for his own house or when he was designing for another. If you were sold to the intriguing volumes, they’re all still here, this time in a near-cocoon that might be associated with the business tagged haute. This was “attitude” that, despite being forward-looking, had the sense of the palpable present: comfortable and assuring.

Mr Simons is not only a shape-meister, he’s also a texture ace, creating knits with the surface effect of stretched kueh ambon or forming the diamond-quilts on the coats (with voluminous rear) that could be a remake the 127-year-old British brand Barbour might just need. And there were the colours, too—chromatic pairing that only Mr Simons would attempt. Few could pair brights to black the way he could: always with such electrifying effect, even when the shades were closer to pastels. Who’d think of teaming candy pink with highlighter yellow? And there are the accessories: one skeletal wrist arm-cuff got us wondering. Was this Mr Simons offering the equivalent of the skull? Humour?! And what about those new R. Simons labels that appears even on knitted gloves? Is the brand embracing commercialism? Or, had his experience with the Prada triangle brought something out in him that we know not much of?

This was Mr Simons’s second women’s collection. It’s hard to link anything here to the past, Jil Sander or Dior, although some of the shirts did bring to mind Calvin Klein. Despite the clearly feminine leaning at Dior, Raf Simons is rarely associated with profound femininity and high-octane glamour. Yet, he has a clear sense of what makes striking womenswear that’s sensational, and, at the same time, uncontrived and unforced. We are partial to the tunics and tunic-dresses, so consistent with styles that are knowing and confident. At Jil Sander, one fashion critic once said that Mr Simons was not able to cut the pants well. This season, the trousers looked masterfully executed—with just the slouch that today’s ‘relaxed’ calls for without the too-easy hang-loose of sweat pants. The mood of the moment was truly well, and enticingly, captured.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Raf Simons

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

History Of His World

Raf Simons has a new, ”curated” website. And we get to see what makes this man ticks

Raf Simons is a designer with a distinct point of view, not to mention, an unmistakable voice. He’s now opened up to his fans, so to speak, and we get to have a peek into his ‘world’—actually, soon, likely universe. His new website, History of My World, is, according to its own description, “distinct from the Raf Simons brand, this new multidisciplinary platform offers a curation of pieces selected by Raf Simons which reflect the designer’s point of view, aesthetic and philosophy.” Those who follow Mr Simons’s career will know that History of My World was the title of the 10th anniversary collection of his eponymous label, shown in 2005. As such, “the website proposes a unique and direct echo of Raf Simons, a personal and intimate window into a thought process, onto a world.”

Launched today, it opens with a trio of photographs that recall the last Raf Simons collection: spring/summer 2021, which includes womenswear. The models are not standing. They are all on the ground: one seated and huddled like the Little Match Girl, one asleep like a vagrant albeit a fashionable one, and the last, body tilted back and supported by both hands—a pose that suggests waiting during a fitting. All three, apart from wearing Raf Simons, also have with them the new Raf Simons-designed blankets. These, as we shall soon see, are not those one might use in place of the duvet. That Raf Simons would put blanket out to sell is as expected as Prada moving bathmats. Yet, they are here, not one, but 45 of them.

As you can imagine, these are no ordinary blankets, and not quilts made by a bevy of grandmothers needing something to do during lockdown (no disrespect to Lee Suet Fern’s favourite craft). These wool, handmade-in-Antwerp blankets, with edges left raw, are an extension of Mr Simons’s predilection for applying scrapbooking montages on his clothes. These include photos that appear to be picked from school yearbooks and other memorabilia, such as pins. They don’t come cheap: the least expensive is priced at €1,650. And the dearest is €2,200. As we write this, 17 of them are sold out. It is not certain if there are only one of each available, but at these prices, they would reasonably be limited in quantity. And it is unlikely that anyone would take these blankets to go to bed with. They’d be used as an outer, draped over the body like a cape. Or—don’t be surprised—hung on walls, like tapestries.

Apart from the blankets, there are three products released so far. There are “apothecary candles” that come in sets of four (€450), all shaped like those brown bottles that you might find in an old dispensary. Made in Belgium, these candles are unscented. Two sets (there are six)—one the colour of rhodonite and the other, the shade of jade—are sold out. Then there are the books. Three of them, all pricey: Isolated Heroes (€950), Raf Simons: Redux (the commemorative book that went with the 10th anniversary of the brand, €950), and the cheapest tome, Woe Onto Those (€450). Style of My World appears to be in the early stages of development. Presently, there’s not much content, and there are too few products. But it appears destined to be an online stop for those looking for unique, Raf Simons-curated gifts. High prices? We don’t think these shoppers care.

Screen grabs: historyofmyworld.com