Simons, Prada collab (only) pleases

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 04: (EDITORS NOTE: This image has been retouched at the request of Prada.) Designer Miuccia Prada and Designer Raf Simons attend the Prada Resort 2019 fashion show on May 4, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Sean Zanni/Getty Images)

There was a great deal of excitement surrounding Prada’s announcement that Raf Simons would join Miuccia Prada as co-creative designer. However, it was perhaps unmerited. Simons had already worked for one of Prada Group’s former brands, Jil Sander, from 2005 to 2012, in addition to his previous tenure at Dior. And it’s an excitement that continues to be unmerited, given that their first collection together is nothing more than a very simple merging of their two respective aesthetics.

After the show’s video presentation, Prada and Simons answered questions from fans around the world—but beforehand, Prada delivered a small introduction. She stated that there were three main concerns for this collection: the relationship between technology, textiles and models; the opportunity to show off clothing through a socially-distanced show; and sustainability and inclusivity. On paper, all three of these goals were met in mutually supportive ways. Floating cameras replaced hordes of journalists and screens displayed the names of the models walking. The amount of cameras present meant lots of coverage and close-up slow-motion takes of the clothes themselves, without the distractions of a live show. Finally, all the models are first time catwalkers, and Prada’s famous nylon is in the process of being replaced by a recycled version. 

All of these details are extraneous to the garments themselves, which are fine but unremarkable. This seems to be a purposeful design choice: Simons responded passionately to a question about uniforms, both true and metaphorical, saying that the idea is something that he and Prada have discussed extensively. For them, a good uniform expresses something timeless and personal on a consistent basis, functioning as a foundation for other high fashion items that are more obvious statement pieces. There are many looks in the collection that seem to be drawn directly from this notion, as except for the contrasting footwear, they are mostly monochromatic. 

Prada and Simons also talked at length about the idea of “newness” in fashion, which they both relinquish responsibility in upholding. Simons thinks that the younger generation is responsible for the avant-garde, and that people who have been in the industry for a few decades should look to honing their existing design language; Prada declares that “new is the nightmare of every single designer” and “our present is done with our past.” This sentiment can be plainly seen in details such as references to a Prada pattern from 1996 and the motif of the cut-out holes, which Simons has employed before. The holes themselves could be a haute couture interpretation of Simon’s early distressing, yet instead of a frayed hole meant to look like wear and tear, it’s one that has been cleaned up so that it can mingle with the high status of Prada. The mock necks of some sweaters and dresses are also stamped with the Prada logo, an allusion to Simons doing the same at Calvin Klein. More subtly, all the coats are tied via the model’s hand clutching both lapels, a reference to Simon’s final collection at Jil Sander where he used the same styling technique. 

The references to Simons’s first collections continues through a collaboration with artist Peter de Potter, with whom Simons has worked since the early 2000s and whose graphics are now screen-printed onto fine silk skirts and slip-on dresses. Moments like these clearly encapsulate the old-world allure of Prada meshing with Simons’ industrial minimalism. The result is jarring and occasionally pleasing, but not enough to warrant a great deal of interest. It is mostly what it sounds like: graphics screen-printed atop staple womenswear items. Not to say that there aren’t interesting garments and looks—the pointy kitten heels are kind of funny, many of the aforementioned clutch-coats display a kind of elegant strictness, and the skirts are gorgeous in their drape and silhouette. The all-black portion of the show is ripe with plays on texture, fabric and accessories that seem to constrain as much as they adorn. In fact, the second half of the show is much better than the first, mostly because it eschews obnoxiously plastering the house’s logo across the chest. 

When Prada and Simons were asked if their cooperative process involved subtraction or addition, they answered that they are doing both at the same time. They also said they found the collaboration very “natural,” and that it was easier emotionally, psychologically and intellectually to share the burden of creation with another person. Given the results of their partnership, I’d agree that it certainly seemed relatively easy… in all the business of their subtracting and adding, they ended up in some strange middle-ground, where things are pretty, but not exactly moving.

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