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Prada AW16
Backstage at Prada AW16Photography Virginia Arcaro

Prada responds to war and migration at AW16 show

This season, the designer says she was feeling ‘deeply serious’ and ‘trying to understand mankind’s difficulties’

“Don’t be serious,” Miuccia Prada said with a little laugh right before taking the first question last night after one of her most poignant and triumphant menswear shows in a long time. It was hard not to be solemn, though: moments before, we had been swept up in a sorrowful tale of dark romanticism and death, set at sea in choppy, black waters. This was maritime territory, with boys in honest, homespun elbow-patched wools, robust shearling-lined uniform jackets and cropped deckhand trousers, but their sailor hats and collars askew were stripped of all nautical cheer. Instead, we were in bleak “Moby Dick” territory. 

Miuccia Prada always evokes a great cinematic quality with her work, and more than ever you wanted to lose yourself in the movie you felt should accompany this collection. It was of course hard not to think of what goes on on our treacherous seas today, and backstage Mrs Prada confirmed she had been thinking of war, of migration, and that the mood came from her feeling “deeply serious and deeply human and trying to understand mankind’s difficulties,” adding that she isn’t a pessimist but that there was something there to think about. 

The French artist Christophe Chemin had illustrated a series of fifties shirts in a symbolic hand with fictional and real faces from history; Cleopatra, Freud, Hercules, “a patched impression of our history,” Prada said. The closing look depicted pairs of animals – giraffes and dogs but also mythical creatures like unicorns – in what felt like a doomsday nod to Noah’s Ark and how war and ecological destruction will pull us all under. Women’s pre-fall was woven in throughout, with girls in velvet dresses and harlequin court jester tights that aligned with the set: a renaissance court built from particleboard and lit with gloomy torches, the kind of set-up where jousting would take place. 

Prada explained that the set had come from the idea of the town square’s historic and symbolic meaning: a place of gathering of all classes as well as an arena for public ceremony and killings. “The square is a place of revolution so it represents every single (thing that is) happening around the world,” she said. “(The collection) was like an excursion through history to find the moments that were heroic, passionate, difficult, to reflect what happened in history to see if we have something to learn about what’s happening now.” 

What came of that was a tale in the tradition of Odysseus, who loses his entire crew during the span of the Odyssey, or Edgar Allen Poe’s unsettling “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”. It was also deeply romantic, like a story of the lover who never makes it back to shore and the woman who drowns herself in grief, underscored by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue’s “Where The Wild Roses Grow” on the soundtrack. 

And as the last models paraded around the court, with their ashen complexions and saltwater-drenched hair dried messily around their faces, you were left with a feeling that what you were really looking at were ghosts, floating around at sea in an eerie mist like The Flying Dutchman. 

Watch Prada’s AW16 menswear show below: