For Autumn/Winter, Prada built a dream home - a cross between a concrete shell and a doll's house, parading her boys like automata through endless corridors.
Notoriously conservative, Milan menswear week has been tackling two of the very few taboos that remain when it comes to men's dress head-on: making men look like children, and making men look like women. The interesting this is that the Milanese designers have by and large avoided the pitfalls - or rather pratfalls - that have hampered fashion's explorations of these subjects before. No short-shorts or Little Lord Fauntleroy suits, and we haven't seen a single skirt, skirt, kilt or anything of similar leg-lapping description. That's why it's interesting - it seems to be genuinely questioning, genuinely pushing at the boundaries that still exist in male fashion. And that is exciting.
Hence, we come, quite naturally, to Prada - naturally because Miuccia Prada has been chafing at masculine sartorial restrictions for years. She's the catalyst. The Prada Boy (yes, he gets both capitalised, he's a recognised archetype) has always had something gangly and adolescent about him, dressed in a combination of parental cast-offs and filched girlfriend -or 'girl friend' - garb. So when Miuccia started to play those perverse games again this season, many observers were disappointed. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, belt and shoes. More's the pity, because as with any theme she seizes upon Miuccia Prada can be counted on to extrapolate and analyse the concept to its very zenith. That's why she leads fashion not only in Milan, but the world at large.
For Autumn/Winter, Prada built a dream home - a cross between a concrete shell and a doll's house, parading her boys like automata through endless corridors. At the same time, the 'house' of Prada of course draws allusions with haute couture - children's toys and women's fashion, at a menswear show. The clothes themselves seemed relatively straightforward: black suits, track jackets, sweaters, tapered trousers. How then did each piece manage to provoke and unsettle? Those suits jutted wide and loose across the shoulder, stiff, unyielding and woefully oversized. As if to compensate, trousers sliced off above the ankle, folded under on themselves, sometimes exaggerated into plus-fours. There was much fabric play afoot, mould-coloured nylons slithering across the body in loose shell-suit tops so synthetic they almost sparked with electrostatic. Those felt vaguely nineties: the patchwork suedes and wallpaper-patterned lurex were filched straight from the seventies - the suede in cocooning caban coats, the lurex pinched into skinny sweaters in purple, emerald and copper, sometimes shrugged over a pleated pastel chiffon top fastening with a tiny button at the nape of the neck.
Those are kind of details you dislocate your neck to see at Prada - because they mean something, something more than the sum total of whole catwalk presentations elsewhere in Milan. A hint of stocking was once looked on as something shocking - but what about a hint of negligee on a man? Especially when that man isn't a mid-eighties Gaultier Homme Fatale, but a suited and booted boy, otherwise straight-laced and sober? Watching any high street surge by proves the Great Masculine Renunciation still holds sway over 90% of the population. But the idea of something bubbling underneath, a tension, of using fashion to question not only what we wear but why we wear them, and what that actually means about the bigger picture - gender roles, ageing, the morality of modern culture - is what made this Prada show so provocative, and so powerful. Of course, it offered no definitive answer. But there's always next season. That's the really great thing about fashion.