Sunday 25 February 2018

Prada creates an American dream

Alexander Fuery

The design house is still about the fashion, rather than the design.

Designer clothing' is a phrase you don't really hear much anymore. Instead, we use 'fashion' which is both a noun, and a verb. It puts the onus on the making, rather than the design.

Prada, however, is the great exception to the rule: every rule, actually. The hand and eye of Miuccia Prada is what makes her clothing compelling, the reason why Prada boutiques are stocked with show looks rather than their anodyne commercial equivalent. Mrs Prada is convinced of what she's doing, whatever she's doing. And that conviction makes her fashion great.

There's also nothing provincial or xenophobic about her outlook. Prada may be the greatest proponent of not only Made In Italy but designed in there too, but it doesn't limit her imagination. For spring, Prada is dreaming of America. In fact it's Hawaii via the mid-century Midwest, a fantasy of Honolulu holiday travel. Pinstripes clashed with hibiscus prints, silk bomber jackets sketched the outlines of forties pin-ups and both make and female models toted suitcases and attaché cases hung with charms redolent of customs stickers peeled from old trunks.

It felt like less of a volte face than usual at Prada: it's feasible to imagine this as the summer vacation of Prada's winter man, shedding his gingham and tweeds for silk-satin and tropical florals, layered under office drone suits or postcard-intarsia short-sleeve sweaters. Those popped up in the show set too, idyllic sunsets and palm trees outlined in primary shades to contrast with the muggy tones of burgundy, mustard and navy that dominated.

The relaxed mood extended to the shapes, roomy zip-front jackets, boxy shirts, wide-cut chino trousers or silk shorts. There are all kinds of points to be made about Prada's authority and authorship of these looks - effectively, a twenty-first century Italian imagining of a twentieth-century American abroad, referencing a past we all know but which in this reality is Mrs Prada's sole invention. But it's enough to say you wish you were there. Her power as a designer is that of seduction. It was an American dream we all want to live.

Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta also emphasised the supremacy of the designer. The house has built its reputation on evoking the sense of the hand - intrecciato leather, hand-woven textiles, embroideries and prints. Sometimes it can take their shows closer to craft than fashion.

This time, however, it was the illustrative idea of the first creative impulse of a fashion designer. "Drawing the clothes like the sketch itself," said Tomas Maier after showing suits hand-painted with tailoring details. Sometimes painterly effects outlined a real lapel, shirt-collar or tie, sometimes creating an illusion, resembling chalk-marks on a bespoke work-in-progress.

It's difficult to tell the difference in pictures, and in a world of mass appeal fashion built for internet - rather than boutique - browsing, the idea of garments you have to touch to figure it all out feels exciting. There was even a touch of uncertainty injected - the impression of a flap pocket instead bisected by a welt, as if the designer had changed his mind at the final moment. Clothes that have been thought about, and to think about.

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