Unravelling a Prada collection often feels a bit like a mathematical exam: getting to the answer is great, but it's your working-out that really matters. This metaphor feels especially appropriate for Spring/Summer 2011, as from the first skinny navy suit to the last breton-striped jumper (and the ever schoolmarm-ish Mrs Prada popping out in a dirndl skirt at the end to wave her tacit approval to the class), it felt like a group of errant schoolboys thundering rebelliously down her cast-iron catwalk in stack-soled brothel-creepers.
If schoolboy chic could be considered a blithe, pithy and wholly insufficient the sum of the parts, lets divide up the Prada equation. The show opened with a half-a-dozen or so of those navy two-pieces, each almost indistinguishable from the last - indeed, a uniform. Uniform, indeed, seemed to be the theme - viewing the images after the fact, it was striking how each model seemed a carbon-copy of another, recoloured in different hues. Muiccia Prada is canny when it comes to these things, there is no way she wouldn't realise that when orchestrating her show, especially with Prada's all-singing all-dancing web presence. Watch as the show slides through tightly-tugged suiting, loosely-cut t-shirt shapes and a rainbow of recoloured striped sweaters. Three-button jackets tricked out in safety orange and drab grey later, although blue dominated, in wool, gabardine and even denim. The shapes were limited, the permutations, reiterations and recolourations endless, like a Warhol silkscreen.
Was Miuccia Prada celebrating this, or criticising? Certainly, there was an undeniable, intriguing vulnerability to these clothes, models rendered as gangly adolescents in gawky, tightly-buttoned suits, or little boys swamped by overgrown, oversized tabards, sweaters and capacious shorts. It seemed as if everything was standard-issue one-size-fits-all - but, as in the real world, this means one-size-fits-none. Models were alternatively trussed and swamped, each of them a clone, hair slicked neatly to one side and rocking on those stack-soled brogues. Maybe the varsity letters that studded fabric carrier-bags and fanny-packs were a means to inject individuality, other than the variation in colour that is. Maybe it's Prada's comment on the conformity of fashion - some of those tabards looked like surgical scrubs: perhaps Prada's mind was on our culture of aseptic, clinical conformity? Whatever the thought behind it, the end result was the same. Prada's show is, unequivocally, the most interesting of Milan fashion week - and that was the only predictable thing about it.