An Epiphany: Miuccia Prada...

Miuccia Prada: The Anti-Queen of Fashion 

by Anna DeWolf

 Miuccia Prada is known as much for her air of mystery and unpredictability as she is for her status as one of fashion’s legends. Hailed as a visionary in the fashion world, Prada is accredited with a unique power to mould distinctly innovative trends and forge new territory for fashion. In a world where vintage-inspired pieces and the reworking of retro aesthetics reigns, it is this double ability to find ‘newness’ and perfectly balance it with marketable commercial luxury which makes Prada the giant that it is: the show anticipated with the most curiosity, and the hardest at which to get a seat. The originality celebrated in her collections lies heavily in their reliance on paradox and contradiction; the elegant from the garish or the ugly, the glamorous from the provincial and rustic. It is no coincidence then, that her unusual entrance into fashion and subsequent career are riddled with contradictions. Doctor of political sciences, communist party member and feminist activist throughout the 60s and early 70s, Prada’s reluctance to inherit the family business of a luxury brand selling luggage to Italian nobles is no secret. She refuses, however, to be pigeon-holed as a typical example of anything (Prada is known for turning up to party meetings in Yves Saint Laurent). ‘I was a feminist in the Sixties, and can you imagine? The worst thing I could have done was to be in fashion.’ But into fashion she went, and immediately her interest in subverting the idea of beauty and luxury became evident in the famous black nylon handbags launched in the early 1980s. Incidentally, Prada’s interest in matching elegance with modern utility was shared by an entire class of Italians and business boomed, with the brand launching its ready-to-wear line in 1988 and following on to have over 200 stores worldwide. 

Beyond being a feature of Prada’s work, the marriage of contradictory influences is the driving force behind her whole aesthetic; ‘You have to always work against what you did before, and even against your taste’ says Prada of her designs. Her clothes have been labelled ‘ugly-chic’, and one can see the intellectual backing behind pieces deemed thus: aiming to work against the easy task of making something beautiful, to break down these perceptions and forge new ones: to use the ordinary to create luxury. The seeming ‘quirkiness’, or even ugliness, of her collections is thoroughly grounded in intellectual consideration. In an interview with Vogue in 2009, Prada spoke of her designs being ‘about what I like, but also analyzing what isn’t trendy and why people like something, trying to find a way to look at it from outside, researching new ideas on beauty and femininity and the way it is perceived in contemporary culture’. It sometimes seems as if her clothes have been born into reality by mistake, intended as some cerebral experiment. Take the fishermen’s waders in luxurious jewel colours alongside fur and velvet coats featured in the AW09/10 collection – mixing a working rustic influence with glamour, wealth and sophistication. On paper it sounds crazy, like some brainstorm of ways to juxtapose these two worlds; but the magic is that on the model it’s wearable, desirable. A certain grandeur lies in Prada’s magpie-like eye: collecting threads of influence and weaving together a new aesthetic crafted from the ordinary, the tatty, the strange, and (of course) the ugly. 

 Naturally, humour also plays a big role in her collections. The inspiration for the AW12/13 show is a blend of graphic circus-tent optical illusions and Edwardian gilt brocades and dress coats, packaged spectacularly as a suit. The girls on the runway could only be described as goth-clowns sporting Ozzy Osbourne-esque long hair and circular glasses. They looked arresting, but there was also something light-hearted, funny, about those heels with the little leather flowers in bright paintbox colours. Similarly, the latest ready-to-wear collection mixes origami-inspired box jackets and skirts in black, white and red - which on their own would project a kind of strict, measured austerity - with stencilled flower motifs on each piece. There’s such a playful air to this motif that each flower would not look out of place on a child’s lunchbox. Again, the result works. The result is so appealing because it achieves an originality rooted conceptually in all four corners whilst not seeming to take itself too seriously. 

 This is what gives Prada her edge: evading being weighed down by saying something – although, of course, it does say something, whether it is obvious to an audience or not – but also being genuine, and this is key. In one of the short films created by Baz Luhrmann for the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition earlier this year, ‘Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada: Impossible Conversations’, Miuccia Prada speaks to a 1930s Elsa Schiaparelli explaining that ‘the moment of shocking is finished’, going on to explain that in an open world where ‘everything is everywhere’ it is difficult for art to create new ideas or find new directions to explore. Everything is already done. Prada’s designs, with their drive to subvert and to change, carry such weight because they present a genuine attempt to do just that – to say something unsaid, to find a fresh way to express the beautiful, the elegant, the interesting. Today’s culture is obsessed with the concept of counterculture but, by paradox and irony, falls flat with its lack of any real comment or substance. Think of the emptiness of all those masonic symbols peppered around Topshop, and the arbitrariness of those crosses and madonnas parading up and down the high street. And yet, at base, these are fuelled by the same crisis of originality – of having nothing new left. The quest to create something new and original, something that has not yet been done, grips the art world of today, but in what we can only refer to as a post-modern era, there exists no such thing. When Miuccia Prada tackles this problem the result is, year in, year out, a powerful assurance of the new-ness fashion has to offer, and the promise of its continuance to do so. ‘I think fashion is that last triumph of what’s new, of what was not done before. That’s interesting’.

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