The show ends. Wrapping up the finale, the models disappear backstage, one after another, to thunderous applause followed by a few seconds of dramatic-tension delay. Will she or won’t she? The audience starts to play the familiar mental game, even though most savvy fashion vets know perfectly well she will. And presto! Miuccia Prada pokes her head out from behind a set wall, smiles knowingly and, in a flash, disappears. The applause swells to a brief crescendo before the crowd, duly satiated, rushes either backstage or out the door.
Prada’s split-second, twice-annual acknowledgment of the fashion flock’s acknowledgment of her genius has become as much an industry standard as shipping fall in July, and, some would say, is plenty calculated.
One of the most famous, most talked about, most respected designers working today, she swathes herself in an aura of mystery unusual in this celeb-obsessed, fashion-obsessed, blogging, tweeting, no-secrets world.
By doing so, Prada keeps even the cynical insider set awed by her rara avis credentials. An influential powerhouse for the better part of 20 years (she introduced ready-to-wear to the family luggage business in 1988), she retains that status on the strength of designs that brilliantly straddle the divide between cerebral and commercial. That approach has garnered her a reputation as fashion’s predominant intellectual artiste—or at least its predominant intellectual artiste with a major business—and one of the most envied and most pressured perches in the industry.
Prada’s most recent collection, for fall, highlighted here on Kate Moss, offers a near perfect fusion of the components fueling the designer’s stardom. Its initial inspiration was countrified, hence the thick, rough-hewn fabrics and the show’s anchor, thigh-high fishermen’s waders, inspired by a photo that found its way into her office, as such inspirational material does all across fashion, in the weeks preceding collections time. “A girl with this huge boot but a twist on the idea of the high boot,” Prada says. This endless strapped-on utility galosh provided an editorial springboard for very glamorous, very real clothes—fabulous coats and suits, ladies!—with a manageable Forties feeling that stood out in a Milan season elsewhere, for some inexplicable reason, big on glitzed-out retro club wear.
Commercial? Absolutely, in that some-women-still-spend-thousands-a-pop kind of way. Yet Prada has stayed at the pinnacle of fashion by allowing high chic to frolic with perversity while she herself seems to stay, if not oblivious, then above it all. Thus perfect, even sensible, tailoring shared the runway with shorts made of hair, and those waders splashed over from tools of a trade to fetish boot du jour. Although one can certainly identify sexual shenanigans in Prada’s work over the years, the obviousness here is a relatively new arrival, one mirrored in her own manner of dressing, which recently evolved from a full-skirted, Italian mama vibe (so genuine, the uninformed would likely have assumed Prada was anything but a fashion designer) to something more overtly alluring, if in a wacky, left-field way: On an afternoon in June she greets a visitor to her Milan headquarters working one of her spring collection’s lean numbers, the fabric light-toned and crinkled, with an add-on silvery gray apron (a key editorial item in her spring lineup) arranged to cover one hip, and elegant, dangling antique black pearl earrings contrasting a knitted grunge cap, a look that darned few middle-aged women not named Edie Beale would even dream of trying to pull off.