‘An eye for an eye/ And a tooth for a tooth/ And anyway I told the truth/ And I'm not afraid to die.’ The voice of Nick Cave singing the haunting Mercy Seat set a sombre yet defiant ambiance at tonight’s Prada show. An apt mood. The brand’s been going through a tough time of late - sales, profitability and share price have all fallen. Many parallels will be drawn between the sailor theme and the brand’s current situation - stormy seas and so on. So rich are Miuccia Prada’s references that the fashion press can’t help but jump on her themes, prints and styling tricks, reading into each detail and looking for clues about her response to both fashion and the wider world. She is fashion’s great thinker - we are right to take note.
She had nodded to the hoopla and commentary that surrounds today’s shows with her set - as usual the work of AMO - which was designed to suggest public stages and the locations of civic ceremonies. We, the viewers, sat on platforms and balconies as if the judges of some trial or spectacle. One thought of public hearings, sports competitions or pageants. That was deliberate - the notes for the space detailed how it was designed to both suit and exaggerate the new role of fashion show attendees - ‘No longer bystanders, they become active participants in the ritual unfolding around them.’ Indeed, we are no longer mere viewers - with a quick tweet or Instagram caption, or a review written in the back of a car on the way to the next show, we become the dictators of how a collection is seen and perceived. Intent doesn’t matter, reception is what counts.
One wonders if by acknowledging this changing relationship Mrs Prada is accepting the new, or taking issue with it. She’s no doubt had a taxing few months reading article after article about Prada’s current status and financial future. Perhaps it was the sailor motifs, or maybe the prints that seemed to depict battle scenes - more on those later - but this felt like she was coming out fighting. There was a ferociousness and a fearlessness about the collection - a sense of throwing caution to the (sea) wind. That’s not to say that the offering was over-designed or complicated - its strength came in the fact there was so much to covet on show. Trousers, bags, shoes. The men’s products were the talking point. While we were still invited to the ‘Prada Men’s and Women’s Show’ the female contingent had been reduced. The focus was on the boys and their clothes.
So, those prints; a collaboration with Berlin-based artist, writer and designer Christophe Chemin. His relationship with Prada came from a shared interest in exploring the past and how it relates to today, and how certain contemporary ‘old’ elements can feel. It’s an interest Raf Simons explored during his time at Dior and one that feels current and relevant in this pacy fashion climate where more and more product drops, more ideas are demanded and each show feels like an orgy of references, historical nods and rehashing. Aptly, Chemin offered mashups - strange paintings that were each based on a variety of historical works. Look closely at the hem of shirts and you could see labels detailing their titles. Banquet Thieves, a riff on the typical banquet still life from art history, featured fresh food and hungry animals and drew on, amongst other works, The Death of the Knight of Celano, a 1300 work located in Giotto’s Saint Francis of Assisi church, Werner Herzog’s 1979 film Nosferatu the Vampyre and Camus’ 1947 novel La Pester. Similarly, The Important Ones - arguably the most striking print on show - drew on the likes of Picasso’s Guernica from 1937 and Antonio del Pollaivolo’s Battle of the Nudes from 1470. It featured, amongst others, Sigmund Freud brandishing a stick, Nina Simone in boxing gloves and Joan of Arc holding maracas. Quite the mix - a lesson in time travel.
As we watched those prints go by, the sound of a ticking clock echoed through the space, mixed into the soundtrack. It summarised what this show seemed to be about; speed, the passing of moments, change. In a way, therefore, it felt like an extension in feeling, if not aesthetic, of last season’s busy bunnies and zooming rockets. Time - it was inferred in those mesmerising prints, which clashed old and new. And in the clothes, which combined traditional menswear and womenswear details - elbow patches, uniform, shirting - with modern elements like a sporty stripe running down a trouser leg.
The last look featured a white shirt falling away from the torso as if blown by wild sea breeze. Yes, there's rough times ahead. Backstage, things were more calm. The show was received better than any other recent Prada offering. Amongst the press kerfuffle, gliding past eager journalists brandishing dictaphones and iPhones (an ironic view, given the message of that set) one model came brandishing a rose. She gave it to Mrs Prada as a thank-you gesture. In keeping with the floral gift, also on the soundtrack of the show was Cave’s Where the Wild Roses Grow. That’s Prada - it’s the home of unique ideas, twists, innovations and, to a degree in these safe fashon times, wildness. For A/W 16, Mrs Prada goes her own way.