Everyone in fashion is desperate to decipher what Miuccia Prada means by her collections—so much so that tonight she found herself backed up against a wall with ten journalists wielding iPhones stuck within inches of her face and ten more clamoring behind them, straining to record what she was saying. She was talking about brocade—30 different types of brocade, “Things which were made from the nineteenth century to the sixties” that were patchworked, often with raw edges trailing from them, into her collection. She said she was worrying about the craftsmanship of the past “and how we can enjoy it today.” The Old World production methods behind some of those lush, shiny, flowered fabrics can entail days of weaving to make a few feet. Yet nobody was asking her about the fact that they’d just watched the show in front of 150 tons of sand dunes that had been dyed mauve and poured over an ochre wall-to-wall fitted carpet at Prada HQ. Or that the music—hardcore rock by Genesis P-Orridge’s Psychic TV & PTV3—was blaring, leaving such phrases as “The angel of death was flying over our heads” and “Life has no meaning” hanging in the air.
Well, everyone is grateful to Miuccia Prada for providing an experience and a sensation, at what must be massive cost, which aims to shake up emotions and prod the numbed intellect. Part of the ritual of going to a Prada show is the excited, nervy conversation that goes on as the audience spills onto the street afterward. Nobody really knows how to react; everyone is left—just for a few minutes—in a state of high, raw feeling, and puzzlement. We live in weird and disturbing times. Miuccia Prada is one of the few remaining fashion designers who confronts us with that.
But, anyway, it is a fashion show. What to make of the clothes? A straightforward description of the warp and weft of Prada’s summer fabrics only partly illuminates what she seemed to be getting at. In basic terms, her collection was constructed within the confines of the silhouettes and items she has long made her own: neat coats, pencil skirts, sweaters, dresses; everything cut to her long-preferred, durably popular uniform knee-length. Neatly subsumed within that template was a subtle, tangential angle on the spectrum of boho-to-pervy references that have been rising this season.
Well, possibly wooden-soled clogs aren’t that subtle. Those forgiven, the cutting (inside-out seams), the phenomenal piecing of fabric, the appropriation of virginal, Victoriana, hippy-era necklines within curvy dresses, the coat of many patchworked colors: All articulated themes, which, in one way or another, have been rising all over the shows. She’s a clever woman—that hardly needs to be said. But when it comes down to it, the fundamental secret Miuccia Prada possesses isn’t of an intellectual order at all: She is a brilliant merchandiser and shopkeeper who never loses sight of what women might like to put on.