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PRADA SS97 collection Kirsty Hume
Prada SS97

Five times Prada made ugly, sexy

From wrinkled socks with sandals to big cotton knickers, Miuccia knows true eroticism is transgressive

Mrs. Prada may be the only person in fashion who is almost exclusively referred to on formal terms. It’s out of respect, obviously, given the 71-year-old has a matriarchal, if not monarchical, standing within the industry. But it’s also a deliberate marker of distance, the strategic decision of someone who has spent a career avoiding the banality of being understood, preferring to occupy that slippery space just outside of logic and conformity instead. It should be expected, really, from a designer who only entered fashion after joining the Italian Communist party, spending years as a mime and gaining a PhD in political science, first. A “Mrs”, at the hands of Prada, is an abstraction, an identity in flux, which gives space for the inconsistencies, liminality, and contradictions at the heart of her work.

From the moment Prada sent out an evening gown made of burlap (the same fabric used to make potato sacks) as part of its SS93 collection, the brand has built a legacy on being contradictory. “My true point of view is to go against the cliches of beauty and sexy… I want to be more clever, or more difficult, or more complicated,” Mrs. Prada told the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, in 2015. For nearly 40 years, the designer has lampooned against preconceived notions of good and bad taste: swinging between the old and new, rich and poor, beautiful and ugly. And when these dialectics transgress and contradict each other, there is an intangible jolt of eroticism. Clothing so wrong, they’re absolutely and totally right. It’s what contributes to that low, libidinous hum of a Prada collection. 

Of course, the brand can be sexy in obvious ways, too. There are plenty of skimpy, revealing outfits in its back catalogue. But Mrs. Prada knows that true eroticism is transgressive, that “ugly is attractive, ugly is exciting”. Ahead of the label’s AW21 show, we rounded up some of the standout moments where the Italian powerhouse has made the ugly, sexy. Or should it be the sexy, ugly? Click through the gallery below.