Dispatches from Milan: Prada Moves It Forward

In Miuccia's world, ugly is the new beautiful (in the best possible way)

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Just as everyone in Milan is tuning into pretty featherlight clothes with a twist of vintage, Miuccia Prada, non-conformist to the core, issues solid stripes in boxy skirt suits — in brown, mustard, orange and black, not the easiest of colour combinations — and heaps on the decoration with plastic sequins. Her genius, fashion professionals will tell you, is to set the pace for the entire industry by taking the obscure, the unpredictable and often the ugly, spinning it on its head, and making it oh so desirable.

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Some Prada collections do just that. Others make you question whether the responsibility of being fashion’s frontrunner outruns the desire to make clothes women will actually want to wear. This was one of those. Brilliant to photograph, but hard to wear in real life. Or was it?

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'Her genius, fashion professionals will tell you, is to set the pace for the entire industry by taking the obscure, the unpredictable and often the ugly, spinning it on its head, and making it oh so desirable.'

Remove the bauble earrings, the fishnet necklaces embellished with plastic, the metallic lipstick, the bouffants with slick-down fringes, the transparent slip dresses over more robust dresses, and the all-over transparent suits — in other words, the capricious styling of the show — and there were more than enough pieces to be considered a desirable collection. Take those first suits, stripped of helter-skelter styling, seemingly classic jacket and skirt combos cut from mismatched tweeds, a natty striped bag in hand, and feet clad in midi-heels or flat points with a silver ball on the toe. They recalled the early 1960s, i.e. something familiar, yet nicely skewed.

Then came the stripes. The same shaped suit, but cut from shiny vertical slices of PVC plastic, one jacket in brown and white, a coat in orange, grey, black and white, all shiny and hard. Here’s where the collection began to subvert with transparent layers, knitted vests and floral blouses — all worn together. Then the waists dropped on multiple rainbow-striped dresses, the shoes became elegant peep-toe T-bar sandals, and the discordant jazz on the sound system made you think of the 1920s, the flapper era, women unleashed from their stiff, suffocating corsets. (Or solid slices of plastic?)

Those thoughts were overthrown once again by Mrs Prada’s anarchistic tendency to lob in the unexpected: flat striped silver boots worn with a transparent striped skirt suit, sheer shift dresses yoked around the neck with collars of plastic discs or a cream leather coat striped in silver and another in lime striped with gold. The final few outfits were white and saturated with yet more plastic embellishment.

Was it modern? Will it push fashion forward? Will it sell?

Those questions can only be answered at the end of the fashion show season. For now, one thing is sure, there’s a counter trend running in the opposite direction to all those pretty, airlight, vintagey clothes. And Miuccia Prada is its leader.