Listen to this article
Miuccia Prada didn’t see her SS16 collection on to the catwalk. A family death called her away just hours before the show and so, according to her spokesperson, she had “finished the last bit of stitching” and gone home.
Had she been backstage, I imagine her commentary would have followed thus: “It’s a collection about conflict and the modern woman. The collection was an internal dialogue about how she must resolve her place in the world. It’s about strength and her struggle with the feminine.” Mere conjecture, you understand, but only an extrapolation of her usual analysis.
The collection began in earth tones, a group of 1960s-style boxy jackets with exaggerated shoulders in a challenging palette of interiors fabrics — brown check, Prince of Wales wools and and radzmire silks. The usual Prada comment on the discord of a summer collection delivered in winter. The looks, with their lacquered, vertical stripes and stout skirts with panel overlays, were difficult and multi-layered.
There were brighter features: jangly paillette pompon earrings; photogenic point-toe patent heels in pastel pink and white with silver strapping and a bauble on the toe; a glimpse of a pop Americana print shirt (as seen at SS16 Prada menswear) illustrated with rabbits, rockets and cacti — a peek of cheek. All were adorned with strange threadlike skeins of a loose wave lace, like a mantle of knotted hair or a whispery choker that was slowly enveloped in sequins as the show progressed — a layer of subversive embellishment
The collection moved into silky dresses, 1920s-style with a dropped black waistband and an oversized silhouette, and striped in 1970s wallpaper colours: burnt orange, avocado, mustard and green. Some were made in a sheer tulle, occasionally coloured with painterly graphics, and layered over graphic, knitted tanks.
Then it shifted again, Josephine Baker meets Brancusi, and an emphasis on evening glamour: skirts were strewn with huge white paillettes, coats encrusted with sequinned flowers. After the jazz shoe, came a 1960s-style go-go boot in pink suede, inset with gold stripes. And there were lovely pale evening jackets in strips of pastel pelts. All was worn with oil-slicked kiss-curls and nasty golden lips. In a show that riffed on decades of feminine shapes, there were no trousers.
I struggled with this collection. I know, to gripe about Prada being difficult is ridiculous. The house was first to propose the idea of ugly chic — back in the mid-1990s. But then it seemed effortless — a true reflection of the clothes women were crying out for: practical, easy and intelligent. This seemed forced. And while there were commercial pieces, this was incredibly hard to wear. The Prada woman is typically wilful, she bucks trends and does her own thing, but this collection lacked her customary sensuality. And sparkle. Usually, I rely on Prada to deliver the ideas that will inform the next season: this, though, felt a little sluggish. And while I reserve the right to completely change my mind — Prada collections have a way of completely seducing me after an awkward first date — I didn’t really feel it.
Prada is desperately in need of a change in fortunes. Net profits are down 28 per cent, caused by the overexpansion of new stores and the China downturn — sales in Hong Kong and Macau have slumped. The economic forecast has become as challenging as the Prada colour wheel. After announcing the second-quarter results the group suggested it would be scaling back on store openings, and refocusing on bags in the €1,000-€1,200 range. That bag is yet to appear. At the SS16 show, the bags were still structured, ladylike — simple, bourgeois and peculiarly unexciting.
We all know that Mrs Prada is exceptional — a feminist, a thinker and a fount of new ideas. I only hope next season she feels more optimistic and I can reconnect with the Prada woman I will always want to be.