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JW Anderson AW23 menswear
Photography Jamie-Maree Shipton

Festering in bed is SO hot for AW23

The humble pillow became an unlikely protagonist during Milan’s menswear shows – but why?

Fashion must be a business of telepaths, clairvoyants, and moles. Because season after season, designers find themselves on the same wavelength, with the same hyper-specific references surfacing on separate runways. As if by magic! Or some kind of psychic interference! That’s what happened to the anthurium flower, which nobody had really heard of until it became the calling card of Loewe’s most recent womenswear collection less than 24 hours after appearing in Ludovic de Saint Sernin’s SS23 show. And a similar thing happened this season in Milan – with Prada and JW Anderson making clothes from, and accessorising their looks with, overstuffed pillows. 

We can unpack this in loads of different directions. For example, might the pillow symbolise the cultural fascination with “quiet quitting” and how late capitalism incentivises an exploitation of labour? Or perhaps it was a reaction to phrases like “goblin mode” and “feral club rat” – after all, some people are introverts and would rather scream into their pillows than they would a mosh pit. They were also fluffed and outsized – shaped into bulb-like bombers at Prada – so maybe the pillow has something to do with economic inflation? Or cushioning people against the slam of the news cycle? Or a call back to when people were doing the #pillowchallenge on TikTok during the first spate of global lockdowns? 

“We always talk about reality, and we, as designers, are very aware of what is happening, the problems, the difficulties. It is a complicated moment in the world – and we react to it,” Miuccia Prada explained of her AW23 collection. “The most honest thing we can do is create something useful for people today – to face reality in, and frame the idea of our reality through clothes.” Pillows bear witness to some of our most private and intimate moments and, in troubled times, having a warm, cosy sanctuary to return to is as luxurious as it gets. But it also telegraphs a renewed interest in functional clothing, with plenty of the AW23 runways skewing spectacle for simplicity. “This collection is about archetypal clothing, about taking the recognisable but changing it through silhouette and cut – their form language is transformed,” Raf Simons added.

The whole thing has drawn comparisons to Viktor and Rolf’s AW05 collection, which, come Monday mornings, gets tirelessly reblogged on fashion Tumblr and High Fashion Twitter because its *mood*. But the pillows of AW23 were spare and clinical, stripped of unnecessary adornment. These aren’t the chintzy cushions that Alessandro Michele sold during his tenure at Gucci, these are the kind of pillows used on a hospital ward, and the kind of pillows beloved of photographer Mark Borthwick, who bundles models in plump Margiela duvet jackets. They are at once utilitarian and vital to dreaming. Perhaps it’s poetic, then, that Prada’s cushioned vest was cut to resemble a life jacket: it’s about security and rising above reality.