She is just back from the Venice Biennale, where, through Fondazione Prada, which supports contemporary artists, she hosted a party for John Wesley and punctuated the end of a spectacular and busy year, creatively speaking. Two stellar fall collections bracketed a spring effort that got a shot of intrigue at retail when Prada engaged four top fashion editors, including W’s Alex White (who styled Moss for this shoot), to redesign flagship stores in New York, London, Milan and Paris around the collection. Meanwhile, the April opening in Seoul, South Korea, of her firm’s Transformer space—the vast temporary steel structure designed by Rem Koolhaas’s Office of Metropolitan Architecture to change shape to accommodate various art installations (the first was Prada’s own “Waist Down,” still flying around the world, on and off, for five years)—turned into a PR coup in an essential emerging market. Conversely, with its polished intimacy, Prada’s June resort show in New York raised the bar for presenting that particularly difficult season.
“Usually my ideas come from what I don’t want to do, or what I find is old. I was really fed up of couture,” Prada says regarding fall, her excellent English suffering little from the occasional syntax snafu. One of the few designers who can change her message 180 degrees from one season to the next without relinquishing a bit of her identity, Prada opted for precision structure for fall after spring’s rumpled-crumpled look.
The conceit was country yet hardly straightforward. Rather, since “you can’t live, apparently, without glamour,” Prada sought “a kind of an impossible combination…. Let’s put in the opposite of the glamour, which is the country.” Along the way she became obsessed with the idea of a perfect red suit and with leather, which she slashed like a knife-wielding predator because she felt she had insufficiently developed peekaboo skins in the previous season at Miu Miu. “It was very womanly, yes,” she notes. “Feminine, powerful.” Yet a collection she thought, “because of the heavy fabrics, everyone would hate.”
Then, the night before the show, Prada insisted upon a change that clarified the entire collection for her. “I went there and [the hair] is too big and I say, ‘Tie the hair.’ By pulling it aside, everything became German. It was so obvious. I saw at this point they all looked like after the war; the red suit became completely Forties. That is the interesting part. You do it and with a little change you see the whole thing differently, and you say, ‘Maybe that’s what I had in mind since the beginning….’ So the heavy wool was not country anymore but postwar and more serious.”
Power dressing, including a strong Forties shoulder, has a deeply entrenched place in fashion. WWII-era German themes, not so much. Yet Prada has mined the turf at least twice, first for fall 1994, when W’s sister publication, Women’s Wear Daily, noted that her austere uniform suits “made the world’s supermodels look like Hitler’s steno pool.” (Would that this writer could claim the line.) Dangerous territory indeed, while speaking to Prada’s particular genius. That she can approach the precipice of the outrageous, and shape the trip into the stuff of mainstream if high-minded fashion, fuels her fascination factor—in part. Although in her decades as a ready-to-wear designer Prada has braced for urban carnage, gone orange and brown ugly and pinup Forties, sans skirts or pants, she has also elevated the mundane—geek wear, bourgeois French dressing, the stuff of Granny’s attic—to outré levels. The only thing one can expect from a Prada show is its unpredictability. Her ability to shock, astound, mesmerize and influence after so long a time in fashion’s forefront often leaves competitors shaking their heads.