Generally speaking, Miuccia Prada is known for taking an oppositional stance when it comes to received notions of beauty.
The brand’s head designer tends to create womenswear that refuses to adhere to the male gaze – it was arguably her designs that prompted the term “ugly chic”. For her spring menswear show, which took place on a warm Sunday night in Milan, she made a collection that was exactly for that gaze. The Prada boy, she explained, is a “sexy boy”, a theme she crystallised by using the word “sexy” almost five times to describe the collection.
The show was held in a vast, coolly lit concrete space behind the company’s headquarters. As guests sat on inflatable square stools under pink lights, the models came out to Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker. Then came the clothes: short shorts on men, an original Prada motif – both were ratified again this season – and came in pink, green, white and blue nylon. Backstage, Prada described them as “the equivalent of a mini skirt”. On the catwalk, she paired them with ultra tight, body-con polo necks. These were then worn under looser fitting blouses, varsity knits or long dark jackets. The Prada spring silhouette is overwhelmingly top-heavy.
Almost every look was consciously mismatched. Sugary tones sat with primary colours or various shades of brown, yellow sat with blue, red with burgundy, and navy with emerald. Making the impossible palatable is her game: “brown is a colour that no one likes,” she once said, “so of course I like it because it’s difficult.” There were several shades in today’s show.
Nylon was a running theme too, as was running, with knitted, zipped track tops unsuitable for any sport appearing on every other model. Denim too, baggy and bleached in a 90s way, featured on several looks. The accessories were the most Instagrammable: every model had a “feminine” leather handbag slung over their right shoulder, and almost half wore bloated trapper hats – incidentally, similar styles featured in the recent resort show. Shoes were black brogues or deck shoes with sports socks. The only predictable element were the Prada-ish trainers which came in pastel colours. Keen eyes noted a new diminutive logo. “Because the logos are such a trend, I joke with them,” Prada said, explaining why she made them small when the industry is making them big.
Prada is known as a pioneer, a creative, a feminist and an authority – her work is impossible to predict or copy and generally speaking, what she says goes. Backstage she implied her inspiration came from real-life dressing: “Sometimes we hide our work. But sometimes it’s good to go to see how people actually dress, and the freedom they should have.”
On the topic of fashion changing or being politicised in a post-#MeToo era, Prada said she hoped “sexy will always exist, whatever company you choose – that’s probably one of the reasons people dress” before adding quickly, “not the only one.” She added: “I guess I am known for being a contrarian”.
A shift to sexy may well be seen as a bid to aid sales. Despite seeing a profit growth in 2017 after being hit by the downturn in global luxury spending – 2016 saw a 10% decline in revenue – Prada has seen a slight dip in recent years.
Backstage the designer turned her comments to the wider fashion-scape: “People in fashion invent so many words. But in the end I am really fixated on giving [things] the right name, to not to be conceptual or pretentious. I like to use simple or banal words”. She laughed. “Also I never pronounce the word [sexy] in my life.”
If turning unexpected parts into a compelling whole is her Prada trademark, then the spring 2019 menswear show took that idea and flipped it on its head.