At a time when the relevance of high fashion is being questioned, Prada’s menswear show in Milan addressed the criticism with an unusually practical item of clothing: a pair of long johns.
Speaking after an audience-free show at a largely virtual Milan fashion week, Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada, co-creative directors of the brand, described the item as symbolic of the current situation. Worn by every model, and intended as a second skin, they were inspired as much by pyjamas and babies as wetsuits and “rockers”, though Simons was quick to add: “We didn’t want it to look like activewear.”
Other pieces that tackled how to dress when we are alone “or in danger” included slip-on shoes, cosy geometric-patterned jacquard knits, and purple and green leather gloves with pockets – fashion’s answer to PPE – all worn with rolled-up sleeves. The brand was one of the first to produce face masks last summer. “The idea of protection is there,” said Simons last week. Prada, who wore a mask around her sleeve, even referred to the colourful, multi-room catwalk as a “bubble”.
The collaboration is only the second for the two designers, and the first menswear show. Often described as the thinking woman’s brand and a titan of the Italian fashion industry – Prada was one of the few profitable brands of 2020 – both are considered designers’ designers, with a shared interest in using fashion as a political and social tool as well as a commercial one. It has even been nicknamed “Prafda” in recognition of Simon’s arrival.
Borrowing from the colourful playbooks of both designers, the collection was noticeably Prada even without the triangle logos. Slim-fitting pinstripe suits were paired with double-breasted coats and oversized bomber jackets. All the models wore Simons’s signature longline knits, boucle tweed and polo necks. Large backpacks, a Prada staple and nod to its commercial arm, were few and far between. Both said the focus was on texture as much as colour, the idea stemming from a current need to feel, and the pleasure of tactility.
Prada, who admitted she does not own a computer, said she was happily working from home and had not changed the way she dressed. “But I never judge people from the way they are dressed, believe it or not,” she said. Those working in the company’s headquarters are being tested every day, Prada said.
She also discussed her own misgivings as a left-wing woman working in fashion: “I was born wanting to be political … but the two things don’t go together so well,” she said, later alluding to the fact that she had thought she might return to politics after leaving fashion. Prada studied mime before getting a PhD in political science, and eventually joining the Italian Communist party. Both Prada and Simons, who answered questions from fashion students after the show, said they hoped this current shift towards being online might boost inclusivity.
Although both designers wanted the collection to frame the pandemic, Simons was optimistic about the future of the industry. “If history is repeating, we know what the 1920s were. There was an explosion of going out and sex,” he said. Prada, however, decried a surge of illegal parties in Milan and insisted she had a responsibility and respect for the moment.
She said: “I don’t want to be boring but I think that what we have learned is that we have a social responsibility … [and when this is over] to not act like: ‘Ah nothing happened so let’s have fun. That moment is still very far away.”