The Prada Show Was Confusing. But That’s the Point.

Thursday’s Prada show was the brand’s most feminist yet since Raf Simons’s arrival as Mrs. Prada’s co-creative director in 2020. Or was it an eerie honoring of conservative female clothes? Was it a celebration of uniforms? Or a knowing, lip-smacking message about the tyranny of the uniform’s cliches? Was the chilly, domestic set designed byDrive director Nicolas Winding Refn, combined with models clutching at their coats like Hitchcock blondes, meant to evoke a feeling of cinematic psychodrama? Or were the shift dresses and nighties in a classic office apparel color palette, and jackets and sweaters pre-creased with wear, actually about the real lives of real women, whose clothes betray the tiring reality of our existence?

That was what made yesterday’s Prada show fantastic: its openness. A lot of fashion shows are like rock concerts, with great music and big hair, and of course there is always a need for that kind of spectacle. But a Prada show is like an opera. This one in particular: Refn created an austere domestic space out of black paper, punctuated with oddly lit windows with sludgy, torn panes and door frames. Attendees could glimpse into the center of the space through the windows to see clips of short films created by Refn, “exploring the lives of women, the scope of fluid modern femininity,” as the press release described them. “The audience inside [is] afforded the opportunity to look out, to more realities,” the release continued. There were layers of stories and intersecting narratives, in other words.

So in true opera style, at a Prada show the staging, the lighting, the clothes and the casting all coalesce into one enormous mood. What the mood is can be difficult to put your finger on—it always has been, really, and people who have been talking and thinking and writing about Prada for decades often acknowledge that a Prada show can take a few days or even weeks or months. to click. But now Mrs. Prada and Simons have pulled that feeling of exploration, of vagueness, to the fore.

Mrs. Prada seems obsessed lately with ambiguity. She seems fascinated by the idea of ​​unsettled ideas, contradictions, things that feel both/and. (Her new perfume, the hero product of Prada’s new beauty line, is called “Paradoxe.”) Perhaps she would describe this obsession as opening the conversation of Prada, of fashion—she is interested in collaboration because it brings more perspectives and layers into. the clothes. “The problem with fashion is that more and more, to do good clothes sometimes is not enough,” Mrs Prada explained in a video conversation between herself, Simons, and Refn posted shortly after the show.. “Because we have a lot of social relevance. Millions of people follow it and so on, and fashion is kind of becoming a pop thing.” So you have to open the work, the show, and the ideas more. You have to let people play.

Mrs. Prada seems obsessed lately with ambiguity. She seems fascinated by the idea of ​​unsettled ideas, contradictions, things that feel both/and.

Fashion is typically a medium about one strong, definitive message. It is the runway image, perfectly cropped, concisely styled, powerfully in focus. The hit product emerges, while the silhouette makes a big stick diplomacy statement. (“This collection is about POWER!” or whatever.) Last season, for example, brought us the Prada tank top that everyone recognizes basically to the exclusion of the rest of the collection. Maybe this is why fashion has become “a pop thing,” as Mrs. Prada puts it—because it lends itself so easily to the whole cottage industry of reducing everything to one image, to only what fits in the frame. Of, for example, analyzing a politician solely through their clothes (which seemed unimaginably inappropriate only seven or eight years ago; remember the fracas around whether it was “okay” to discuss what Hilary Clinton wore?). Of our desire to distill of a complex political situation into one picture; of our impulse to say some Associated Press photo is “a Renaissance painting,” as if a photojournalist hastily snapping is attempting to convey all the responsibilities of an old master painter (you know: patrons, vain countesses, Jesus Christ, etc.) And maybe, too, of the insistence that there is one way to interpret things, this sudden belief in the world that right and wrong have never been so clear, which is the moral tug at the center of cancel culture. But to say this is a collection about that topic would be missing the point.

What seems intriguing to Mrs. Prada and Simons at the moment is how unsettled the single image in fact is, a reality underscored by the odd narrative baked into the construction of the clothes themselves. (As Simons put it in the interview, “I like the idea that you have a narrative but you can’t really,literally analyze it.”). Why is the front of her skirt torn? Are her sleeves, at the elbow, so creased from leaning over a computer with arms bent, or from committing some kind of crime? (I suppose in this age of cyberhacking, they could be one and the same!) Are her clothes sheer to convey her innocence, or her seductive powers? The creepy music, somewhere between ’50s horror soundtrack and retro SciFi TV show, brilliantly got the mind going in this regard.

The show was called “Touch of Crude,” which of course conjures the Orson Welles movie from the golden age of noir, Touch of Evil, in which the style of the film itself gives shape to an otherwise convoluted plot. (Ah ha!) But the substitution of “crude” for “evil” is an intriguing away—taking away the diametric of black and white, of good and evil, and replacing it with a word that has a messy multitude of meanings. Rough, rushed, impolite, uncivilized…. Perhaps the only thing all these words have in common (aside from their source synonym) is that they describe the state of our modern world.

By making the clothes so simple, and then slightly corrupted, the collection scoots up to the possibility of a message and then, like a femme fatale, slinks away leaving everything up in the air. (You know: Does she love me, or want me dead?!) This was a collection that invited interpretation rather than demanding reception of designer mandate. And classic Mrs. Prada, in her bourgeois-punk way, to toss such a chic grenade at the status quo of designers exhaustively striving to communicate something extraordinarily exact.

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