Milan Fashion Week Autumn / Winter 2012 Show Report: Prada

24 February 2012

So we started with an enormous carpet, woven with huge purple and black repeating patterns: the widest awake among us sussed a kind of Secessionist geometry. And, when I say huge, I mean really enormous: think aircraft hanger scale with massive hanging boxes of fluorescent strip lights. The Prada catwalk venue is always the audience's first clue as to what is going on in Miuccia's head. Other designers just choose a pretty room that will make the clothes look good. With Prada, every detail is loaded with significance. You need to be paying attention from the moment to cross the threshold.

While wondering if there were any salvage possibilities for this beautiful carpet (surely it doesn't just get dumped in a skip after the show) it became clear that there were two likelihoods here: since the carpet was a purple version of the red one she used for the Hollywood thesp-studded men's show, maybe Miuccia was about to unleash a legion of A listers onto the winter womenswear runway.

Instead of Tim Roth and Willem Dafoe, were we about to get Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton? For a full 30 minutes we lived in hope. Or, since the Secessionist artists and architects were defiant modernists at the turn of the 20th century, maybe it meant that we were in for something dark and intellectual. And since Miuccia spends more time at the Tate than in front of the TV, we should have known it probably wouldn't be anything to do with Hollywood eye candy.

As the menacing music started and the models emerged, we realised this was definitely going to be a brain teaser.

Miuccia Prada will always give us something to think about and a lot more  to talk about. Her collections can rarely be summed up in words of one syllable. The stiff black layers, studded with heavy shards of jewels had more to do with architectural form than the body. The midi length A line skirts over cropped flared pants topped with cutaway tail coats looked like modern day armour. She rejected all dresses (which she does brilliantly) for skirts layered over trousers and coats that flared stiffly from the shoulder and were balanced thick soled and stack heeled shoes.

The alternative to the jeweled black came in yet more stiff tailored A lines in repeating geometric patterned brocades that brought the 70's era of Austin Powers to mind: fit and flare jackets over skinny flared crop trousers. The combinations of brown, dull gold and khaki were reminiscent of the 70's of the three day week and striking workers, not the 70's of disco dancing  and studio 54. Although a trouser suit in bright citrus orange delivered a glimmer of hope.

Hair was dip dyed black with blonde or white tips and scraped back off a moodily made up faces. Bags were all variations on the Gladstone: rigid frames in glossy cordovan or patent leather.

It was gothic. It was stern. It was disciplined. And, for all that, it was also unexpectedly decorative. As usual she gave us lots to think about. We have spent a season wrapped in candy coloured and feather embroidered romance, talking about frilly femininity as an escape from the relentless doom and gloom. Miuccia has jolted us out of that and brought us back down to earth with a vision of apocalyptic glamour.  What does she know that we don't. And should we be worried?

by Paula Reed


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