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Outside of fashion’s ivory tower, it’s dark days. Jair Bolsonaro is turning back the progress of human rights in Brazil; Paris still explodes with riots on a weekly basis (which even affects fashion’s bubble — Christian Dior’s menswear show skipped back a day, from Saturday to Friday, to avoid the manifestations); Brexit looms still uncertain. And, of course, there’s Trump.
Many fashion houses choose to ignore what’s unfolding, offering soft-gummed fantasy rather than the bite of reality, designer Neros fiddling with lapels and hemlines while Rome burns. It’s frequently been the way — the aforementioned house of Dior came to prominence in 1947 by offering an antidote to the harsh post-war realities of rationing and shortages, proposing dresses generous in fabric, pretending all was well. Of course, it was for the few who could afford those clothes.
Miuccia Prada, by contrast, isn’t dreaming. She’s trying to tackle reality, trying to reflect it in the clothes that she creates. To manufacture something that will be a testament to her time. “I was trying to do something about the simple, naked sensitive people against the tough world,” she said after her show. “Against the complications, the toughness, the nastiness of the world.”
Brave — and it meant her clothes, rather than decorative, dissectible gewgaws or tweaked skews on saleable suits (both dominant across the season as a whole) tried to tackle the nitty-gritty of the world in which we live. Albeit, in a somewhat light way. “To describe that in fashion — you can’t be too heavy, or else it will become a very heavy political discussion,” she reasoned. “So I took inspiration from trashy horror movies, mainly from Frankenstein, as a symbol of a monster in search of love.”
It makes sense — monsters are all around us, it seems, and maybe they’re not all bad. Or maybe what we perceive as monsters aren’t anything such. The whole thing certainly struck you as dark and foreboding, a schlocky horror show with a tongue firmly in-the-cheek — you can’t play Richard O’Brien’s “Time Warp” and the theme-tune to The Addams Family as your (frankly, fantastic) soundtrack without knowing it’ll raise giggles rather than awareness. But it says a lot that the show didn’t slide into pastiche, even with those jibes at seriousness.
Instead, you were struck by the mournfulness of these dark-clad, pale figure, flesh often exposed — tailored suits and utilitarian workwear over vulnerable, nude torsos — moving in the vast space of the Deposito, a football-pitch sized gallery of Miuccia Prada’s art foundation dedicated to experimental performance. In a sense, this fashion show was precisely that. Certainly, it wrestled with the kind of “Big Picture” issues art tussles with, as opposed to distracting us all with something pretty.
Miuccia Prada would never claim that, of course. She called the prints — of cartoonish thunderbolts, and roses, and Frankenstein heads with bolts jutting from his neck — “stupid”. They kind of were, but intentionally so. She also described the show as containing “madness, exaggeration” drawn from those horror B-movies. It’s all the kind of banal and bad-taste subject matter she adores, and which she has been instrumental in bringing to fashion’s forefront.
This collection jarred with colour — brain pink and zombie green and a virulent bruise purple, the kind of colours teenage goths dye their hair or paint their face with to provoke reaction. There is a similar streak to Miuccia Prada’s work — she provokes and annoys and, ultimately, wants to make people think deeper about fashion, about what it can say, the ideas it can convey. For Prada, the medium is rarely the message.
This show wasn’t offering a solution, or even a salve, to the weird, screwed-up world that we are inhabiting. But it wasn’t trying to. It was reflecting it, magnifying it, distorting it. And yes, selling it back to us, nicely packaged, in interring, engaging, brilliant clothes. But that’s the medium, after all. The message is deeper — as it should be, with good fashion.
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