For all Miuccia Prada’s much-commented-upon creativity, there is also a consistency from season to season that is equally interesting. Setting aside her most ardent fans, even someone who browses Style.com for ten minutes can glean strong trends in her body of work: allusions to hyper-traditional femininity, A-line skirts, crystal earrings, heels worn with socks, the ambience of the 1960s.
Yesterday’s presentation in Milan was textbook. The opening look, modeled by veteran Gemma Ward, was a Prada staple ensemble: a well-fitting, polite coat worn with a matching skirt, heels and chandelier earrings. Bizarre baroque damask provided a traceable rhythm as the show progressed, as well. Miuccia’s taste for bizarre prints was also a feature in this collection, and demure knits, too.
The old, however, gave rise to the new. There were delectable ideas at work among the familiar content of the show. Memory, time and sensation are notions that come to mind. First, through the frayed edges and fabric scraps, which had a mnemonic quality that I enjoyed. You get the sense of a past from which the precious brocades and translucent silk florals originated. The patchwork, moreover, also implies a backstory. Each fabric scrap was a step in time towards the moment the dresses appeared on the runway. Or, at least, that’s what the collection gestured towards. It might be that the fabric, too, was a way for the old to grant our access to something new.
Prada’s use of “standards” also lends itself to another analogy across time. I’m beginning to think that the trademarks Prada draws on each season are rather modular. They represent malleable ideas available to endless reconfiguration, expansion and contraction. In this regard, I also begin to think of the modernist architects of the 20th century, a period whose intellectual culture Miuccia Prada has always referenced. The widely reproduced furniture of Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen or the plain, neo-Classical geometries of Le Corbusier and Philip Johnson, for example. Each of these designers was devout a minimalist; Prada, ostensibly is not. However, behind the frills—which are, no doubt, as important as anything—there is a rather practical and restrained sensibility to the way Prada articulates an idea. Perhaps she is the real minimalist of our moment.
The presentation yesterday did not feel as monumental as some other Prada collections, Spring/Summer 2009 standing out as a mind-altering example. Yet it was meaningful, in the way it provided an elusive hint about the Prada project. The notion of a past is very frequently invoked and welcomed in Prada collections, of which this is certainly an example. If you consider the baroque anxiety with which recent fashion has oriented itself away from the past, it’s refreshing that Miuccia Prada’s fashion is one of re-evaluation and re-thinking. Not ex nihilo mastery, but revision. That is what I have found so indescribably attractive about her work. Until now, at least.