What role does fashion play within the public discourse? Especially when the realities that confront us daily are so disturbing?
This is a question that every designer is required to navigate, whether these particular nuances are baked into their clothes or they decide to do nothing at all. It’s a question that effectively informed the success of some of the best-known design houses we have: Christian Dior and Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. It is also one the reasons Miuccia Prada is perhaps the most important designer of our time. Yesterday, she showed a 49-look collection in Milan that read more like a retrospective, self-referencing her ’90s minimalism and interpretation of the ’70s and, as Vogue‘s Sarah Mower put it, “de-intellectualized” the complexity of her otherwise enchantingly overwhelming collections.
This complexity — a sort of fearlessness about what her clothes say — is what separates Miuccia Prada from her contemporaries. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but when I look at these clothes, I see more than just ostrich feathers lining sleeves and pants and dress slits, the slicked-back hair and the models she chose to cast. I feel inundated by nostalgia for a period I wasn’t part of.
It’s old, but it’s also new and that is so satisfying because it makes it feel alive. If I had to wager a guess, that has everything to do with the implications of this simplification — this direct response to the state of the world, the trouble we all have to navigate as thinking people and feeling humans (particularly when our freedoms are being compromised or threatened), and the reason that all of this is important to share is because it is exactly what fashion is all about.
The low-common-denominator interpretation of The Mechanism says that clothes are made to be sold. And this is true, no question, but before we hit that bottom line (and cynically turn up our noses at an industry that purportedly relies on manipulation), there are people who think important things and try to metabolize these thoughts in a way that is both insightful and tangible. The tangible stuff materializes (pun intended) on runways and if they’re executed properly — that is, if the thoughts are not unique to the designers thinking them, if they’re tuning into a frequency for which the majority opinion is beholden — they incite delight.
And this delight is so important when we’re faced with the really hard stuff elsewhere. Because when fashion can clearly articulate its acknowledgement of that stuff, but also provide a release from it, that’s the magic sauce. It’s the sizzle that lets you feel a part of something much bigger than you — even if you can’t afford it.
Feature and carousel photographs by Alessandro Garofalo / Indigital.tv; slideshow photographs via Vogue Runway.