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Prada AW16
Backstage at Prada AW16Photography Federica Fioravanti

Miuccia Prada explores the complexities of womanhood

Speaking backstage of the many roles women have to play, the designer presented a vision of strong and multifaceted femininity

Earlier this week in Milan, Alessandro Michele debuted a collection for Gucci that was based on the idea of fashion operating as a coded visual language in which history, time, politics, and identity are contained. Although he picked on references as far-reaching as the Renaissance, rock ‘n’ roll and contemporary street art, his signs were easy to follow – your eyes could seek out a Chinese-inspired collar, a disco-style platform boot, or a 60s velvet dress layered over a pussybow blouse. That’s not to say these garments weren’t visually arresting or technically complex, crafted with incredible, painstaking skill. But when the word “real” is spray-painted above a Gucci logo, it isn't hard to get the message.

The same has never quite been true of Miuccia Prada’s collections – this is fashion that demands considered thought, reflection extending far into the hours, days and weeks after the final model has exited the catwalk. Yes, the signs are there and the references are familiar, but they appear somehow foreign – like the scattered, dreamlike symbols of a Giorgio di Chirico painting, which the show space’s chiaroscuro arches seemed to take inspiration from. Building on the foundations laid by January’s menswear show, last night Prada’s girls walked in sailor hats, fur coats and Hawaiian prints, decorated with keys, roses, corsets, notebooks, knitted gloves and socks and many other accoutrements besides. They were dressed, said Mrs Prada, for an adventure – rather than waiting, forlorn, for a long-lost love to return from a voyage, they were the ones doing the travelling.

“They were dressed, said Mrs Prada, for an adventure – rather than waiting, forlorn, for a long-lost love to return from a voyage, they were the ones doing the travelling”

The clue was in the music, where PJ Harvey’s grazing voice sung of having traversed “hell and high water”, and the alluring drawl of Nico name-dropped the Titanic. “Women – iconic women, strong women and poetic women”, summed up music maestro Frédéric Sanchez backstage of the soundtrack, which also featured Marilyn Monroe and Edith Piaf. From Harvey’s furry armpits, lurid green eyeshadow and expressive, handsome features, to Monroe’s archetypal blonde bombshell beauty, each of these women had radically different ways of performing their femininity and all of their interpretations were equally valid. Miuccia’s model muses may have been going on a journey, but Mrs Prada herself was the one travelling – into ideas and expectations of femininity, into the varied and complex nature of woman.

This found its footing in the prints by artist Christophe Chemin, which went from depicting what you might call A Room of One’s Own to surreal mountainous landscapes dotted with female figures. Then, the little objects in the collection – tiny diaries and charms – both decorated and commented on the way women themselves are often reduced to decoration (and made you wonder what secrets the models might have been scrawling in the gilded books). Corsets, a torturous symbol of constraint employed to force the female body into unnatural and yet desired silhouettes, were tied loosely over the top of tweedy jackets; trousers were not on the menu. Keys were worn on thick metal rings around the neck – a paradoxical, slightly kinky visual of both knowledge and imprisonment. 

Still, perhaps more than anything, this collection felt like a statement of strength in the feminine – these women were weather-beaten but proud, adorned with rose details which looked pretty, but came carved from steel. Backstage, Prada said succinctly that women simply have more facets than men. After all, they have to be mothers, lovers, workers, daughters and sisters – perhaps most importantly, they are supposed to be beautiful. The expectations of woman. Is there a more ‘Prada’ topic for a collection than that?