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Sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. However much fashion journalists proselytise about Prada, its financial figures make for less happy reading, with its net income falling 27 per cent to €330.9m in the year to January. What does a luxury brand need to do? Sell product. What does it need to do it? Product that people want to buy.
For Spring/Summer 2017, the general theme was hiking: nylon zip-ups, backpacks, athletic leggings. There was vivid colour in the mix. Sandals were worn with socks. Some buttoned jackets harked back to a time of outdoors activity before the invention of nylon. The look reiterated the mood of the Versace SS17 catwalk shown the day before, presumably thus starting a trend. Can’t you just wait for those hiking editorials? In place of water flasks, hung off those backpacks were more bits of product — another pair of shoes, an extra jacket. See what I mean? More product.
As a catwalk show, it was a relatively literal experience. Its soundtrack — “Little Fluffy Clouds” by The Orb, “Higher Than The Sun” by Primal Scream — was there to signpost thoughts towards early 90s dressing, as if you were heading to an early iteration of the UK pre-millennium festival Tribal Gathering. Oh, that’s Björk! Oh now Faithless! Yes, we’re old.
But come on, this is so much more than the obvious. The secret after the show is to wait for the models to get changed, then go sneak into the dressing room to look at the garments up close. First things first: the vivid blue jacket with yellow and orange technical zips is a total winner. And then there are all those layers: a light green shirt with a mini tortoise print; another with the print of a sweet beach hut. They were great, classic Prada. There was another shirt with hand-drawn symbols of world travels: a Buddha, an elephant, the Taj Mahal. The word novelty might sound naff, but it’s these novelty shirts that will please a customer already addicted.
To draw in other non-Prada men, there were checks. One look matched a tight black check on yellow with a blue, red and yellow tablecloth print, and check trousers in dull pale green with orange stripe. Does the previous sentence read like a blur? That’s checks, and men love them. The brand used to have a label called Prada Sport, beloved by non-fashion men. It disappeared in one of those strange acts of fashion pretending something never happened. This felt like a return to that market. As such, it was a very clever move.
One question though: what’s to stop me going to Snow and Rock in London, Paragon Sports in New York, or any sportswear store anywhere and buying this look now? It’s actually a thrill to go to these places and buy an already genuine functional take on high fashion product. I remember Hedi Slimane showing a blue padded jacket on the Dior Homme catwalk back when he was the creative director of that brand. I went to Paragon Sports and found the perfect equivalent months before the Dior Homme version hit the stores. I still wear it today. When a high fashion brand does technical sportswear, doesn’t it make you want to run straight to brands that do it not just for one show, but year in, year out?
Away from the catwalk, there are signs that Prada is shifting forwards. They are soon to start selling their products on Mr Porter. For years, it’s like they’ve been allergic to the realities of the way men consume fashion today. The fact that it’s taken them so long to work with an online retailer may explain their woeful figures. Better late than never.
They also desperately need to bring some sense of urgency and vigour to their stores, where even an impassioned Prada customer can feel disengaged and bored. Here was a ton of stuff that, merchandised in the right way, can fill the stores with narrative and new desire for product. It’s up to the infrastructure inside Prada to work out how to exploit what was shown on the catwalk and save this extraordinary brand.