Milan Fashion Week Spring 2014: Prada does old, Fendi does new. Sort of.

Alexander Fury
BUhcJVRCUAAqC3L.jpg large 225x300 Milan Fashion Week Spring 2014: Prada does old, Fendi does new. Sort of.

The finale of Karl Lagerfeld's spring 2014 Fendi show

I’m in Milan, the penultimate leg of the four-city world fashion tour. Prada has just shown, a collection that seemed to be about different interpretations of women. Although always women in a skirt. Mrs Prada herself wore a coat from her winter 2007 collection, with feathers and celluloid strips appliquéd onto a wool chemically treated to crinkle like crocodile. She also showed footless socks that echoed that 2007 season. Which seems a little odd.

Prada does enjoy an archival romp – one of my favourite collections by her, from winter 2010, was a rediscovery and reclamation of her late nineties ugly chic stomping-ground, replete with hideous shoes and dodgy knitted tights. For winter 2012, she used archive prints from her winter 1996 collection. Self-plagiarism is tricky ground, especially in fashion, where every idea feels like it’s nicked from someone else. And Prada is one of the favourites for others to reference.

No matter, the Prada collection today didn’t feel old. We had seen her explore elements there before: those socks, the sports feel which reminded me of an equestrian Miu Miu collection back in 2008, the high-heeled plimsole-esque shoes with the tyre-tread sole. The background showed a series of images, mostly enormously blown-up faces, created by mural artists and illustrators under the direction of Prada and long-term creative collaborators, New York design firm 2×4. Rem Koolhaas’ AMO devised the catwalk lay0ut. The overall mural series was called “In The Heart of the Multitude,” while the individual works had titles like “Beauty Masks”, “Trois Femmes” and “Colourful Women.” Some of them ended up on the clothes, most interestingly crusted with gems or worked into colour-saturated mink coats. Given the high-end success of those daisy-strewn furs for spring, one suspects those were as much a financial as aesthetic decision.

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The mural-painted set of the spring 2014 Prada show

That’s because Miuccia Prada is clever. She does’t divorce design from commerce, just as she doesn’t pander blindly to conceptual conceits. People who pigeon-hole her clothes as “Intellectual” aren’t painting a full picture. She thinks, sure. But she’s also keen to shift some clothes. And to make a woman look good. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – Prada’s proposed some very strange beauties, including this collection. The bright, jarring shades, the bold prints, the ungainly footwear and those odd legwarmers don’t add up to a traditional idea of feminine attraction. It’s an interesting power play. If Miuccia is interested in a strong woman, its because she knows she’s the most powerful of all. There’s no struggle. She’s won.

Karl Lagerfeld is also a strong designer. I was struck today by how young and fresh his Fendi clothes looked. Last season’s fur-throtted, hypercoloured collection may have had more immediate impact, but I suspect this show will be a grower. The spindly shoes with an extra “stabiliser” of metal running parallel to the stiletto heel were witty, but wearable. The accessories in ombre-printed leather and pastel fur were great, as were Delfina Delettrez Fendi’s glittering gewgaws, her signature eye motif worked in crystal and embedded in froths of fur like minuscule creatures crawling over models’ fingers and lobes. They also looked a bit like eyelashes or brows of fox or mink.

I’m talking a lot about the accessories, because they carried the impact. The clothes were great too, light, easy to understand, simple to wear. And pretty, with their degrade layers of organza worked diagonally or horizontally across the body, mink sheared down and patchworked with chiffon to look like a disintegrating houndstooth blown to giant proportions. I also like the plastic skirts that seemed at first glance to be sequins, but were actually a cross between chain-male and fish-scales, transluscent multifaceted layers.

The very best thing, however, were Karl Lagerfeld’s show notes. He penned them himself. “A collection of monochrome colour blocks (not blogs…) and an overblow of transferring lines (not files…)”. When every other fashion house is grabbing desperately at the Internet, hoping its their saviour, Lagerfeld’s sarcastic nonchalance is a mark of supreme confidence. It’s also very funny. And it even made sense with the collection, the circuit-board patchwork and sarcky futuristic bent, bowl-cut wigs by Sam McKnight and Kraftwerk on Michel Gaubert’s soundtrack. It made me smile, at least.

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