Whether you attribute the recent shift in fashion to our political climate, social media peacocking backlash, or Saturn’s stint in Capricorn, there is no doubt about it: essentialism is in the air. The urge to streamline, to simplify, to strip things down to only their most necessary parts, is palpable. This movement has been particularly interesting to observe during fashion month, wherein brands must juggle the “less is more” mentality with the underlying intent behind designing and producing clothes in the first place: to sell a lot of them.
It’s a delicate balance between catering to consumer desires without sacrificing brand identity and the constant battle for commercial growth. It’s particularly delicate when consumers are hungry to pare back. Prada and Bottega Veneta, who showed their Spring/Summer 2020 shows in Milan this week, walked that tightrope in markedly different ways.
“In this moment where everything is excess–too much fashion, too many clothes–I tried to work it so the person is most important,” Miuccia Prada told the press as context for her new collection. The opening look was by far the most obvious example of this effort: a whisper-thin long-sleeved gray polo sweater buttoned all the way to the top, tucked into a similarly sheer gauzy white skirt, a blank canvas upon which the woman wearing it might imprint herself and her personal style. Blank, but not boring–it would be a mistake to confuse Prada’s simplicity with lack of intention. Every detail is infused with purpose, particularly the ones that make you think who’s that? instead of where is that skirt from?
The skirt, while identifiable on the runway, would never scream “Prada!” if you saw it on the street, which was conceivably the point. Some pieces were more indicative of the brand’s more maximal proclivities, like a bright orange coat embellished with beaded turquoise leaves and lucite buttons, but by and large, and particularly relative to the neon and tie-dye and puffy headbands of recent Prada seasons, this collection was remarkably straightforward. The colors were solid, for the most part, and dark–especially for a spring collection, the silhouettes were tailored, and the details were uncharacteristically restrained. (“I can’t imagine what could have been simpler, short of nudity,” Tim Blanks wrote in his Business of Fashion review).
Even so, simplicity as imagined by Miuccia Prada bears a notable contrast to the equivalent from Bottega Veneta’s creative director Daniel Lee. At his show on Thursday, the only actual item of clothing in the opening look was a one-shouldered black dress with nary a detail to set it apart from the infinite number of other one-shouldered black dresses that exist in the world. The look’s distinguishing factors had nothing to do with the dress itself and everything to do with the two accessories that accompanied it: an enormous butter-yellow crossbody tote, and white high-heel mules that bore a resemblance to whipped meringue, both eye-catching without logos or extraneous hardware.
The majority of clothes in the new collection served as backdrops for the accessories; even the occasional orange or blue sequin dresses seemed to be designed with moderation in mind. Such is Lee’s impressive approach to streamlined fashion: exercising restraint in order to highlight accessories that are a rare combination of simple and Instagrammable, destined to become “it” items from the moment they appear on the runway. In this sense, even though Bottega Veneta is a paragon of the industry’s current pared-back aesthetic obsession, it is still inherently trendy, proof that manufacturing trends and striving for simplicity are not necessarily mutually exclusive endeavors. It also presents an interesting contrast to Prada’s version of simplicity, one that lacks trendiness but retains a firm grip on relevancy regardless.
Bottega Veneta and Prada’s new collections are two distinctive sides of the same streamlined coin, the former brimming with downtown edge and zeitgeist and the latter an ode to the strategic flourishes employed by uptown eccentrics. Each designer caters to different women with different style sensibilities, but their latest offerings are proof that their motives are aligned—to cultivate simplicity without sacrificing delight.
Feature Photo via Getty Images, Photos via Vogue Runway.