The set of Prada's A/W 18 menswear show was a great example of the ordinary made extraordinary. Illuminated with electric blue light, the environment was a carefully curated take on a storage facility: PVC curtains and rows of large crates and boxes. It even smelled like a warehouse, with the very clean scent of new plywood. This is probably how the near future is going to smell — the future of automation, of an increasingly human-free environment, of consumption, enabled by robots picking goods from spaces like this one and delivering them to our doorsteps. The invite to the show could be folded into a miniature box, and automatic cameras above the runways had an uncanny resemblance to the workforce of tomorrow. Today, the obsolescence of human labour is indeed a big topic, particularly when it comes to retail. At the end of 2017, The Guardian ran an extensive feature on the evolution of the distribution centres used by corporations like Amazon and Ocado, which was essentially a panorama of terrifying efficiency. Automation could be a dream or a nightmare (check the recent Black Mirror episode 'Metalhead'), but it’s certainly inevitable. The place of the human mind in the world driven by efficiency was one of the crucial questions raised by Prada A/W 18.
The show opened with seven totally black looks, all with variations on a structured puffed up jacket. Those were not voluminous puffers of Balenciaga or Moncler, but sleek numbers, reminding one slightly of bulletproof vests. There were tokens of an office environment - lanyards, ties and document folders. The blackness soon erupted into the signature abundance of prints: flames, florals, check, like a boxed vision of techno-tropical jungles, all to the sound of distorted classical music and pre-recorded bird songs. Two things recurred in almost every look throughout the collection: the firm hard shape of jackets, and bucket hats. With the incredibly diverse casting, the collection was carried forward by a rejuvenated energy.
The collection also offered the first instalment of the brand’s new project, Prada Invites, which involved four creative professionals working on an item for the collection using Prada's signature black nylon fabric. Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec worked on a variation of an art folder, Konstantin Grcic re-interpreted a fishing vest, Herzog & de Meuron created patterns based on the contemporary idea of language, and the visionary architect and long-term collaborator of the brand Rem Koolhaas reimagined a backpack (worn, conveniently, on the front).
Prada Invites, with its interdisciplinary nature of creativity and industrial vibes, brings to mind another game-changing collaboration - Virgil Abloh’s ongoing research project for IKEA. Abloh doesn’t just design rugs, he also produces a study of millennials’ habits and homes. For the truly innovative companies, case studies for the future are more important than products to sell, and Prada’s new initiative certainly shares this sentiment. With every invite came a heavy black folder with research notes from each of the creatives, with drawings and scrapbooks - a lot of material to reflect on.
Having said all that, it feels like I’m slightly missing the point. It was intelligent, technical and efficient - but also emotional and moving. An incredibly rare case in the industry, the story told through desirable garments was daring, uncanny, even cathartic. Like in Margaret Atwood’s dystopias or in Radiohead’s OK computer, wrapped in a story about something seemingly inhuman was the very essence of humanity.