A Plea for Compassion at Prada

MILAN — The invitation to the new Prada show came within the huge catalog of Recycling Beauty, the current Fondazione Prada exhibition in Milan. Co-curated by Salvatore Settis, Italy’s preeminent historian, it covers the vast expanse of human history, but its essence can be distilled into a remark made by Miuccia Prada in her introduction: creative reuse fuels our concept of modernity – the past feeds into the future, in other words – while at the same time reinforcing enduring human values ​​such as love and mutual care.

That was also the essence of the new collection that she and Raf Simons presented. They called it Caring. “The true meaning of what we do is to bring importance to the everyday,” was a quote from Miuccia in the show notes. And here, the everyday meant clothes that you recognized as clothes that served a purpose, most obviously a white cotton nurse’s uniform and a brown army shirt and tie, but also a wedding dress, equally uniform in its own way. Elevated the everyday by making the nurse’s uniform floor-length, adding a train or, conversely, cutting the layered embroidered veil of a wedding dress into a short skirt and pairing it with a plain gray sweater and suede blazer. brown.

I doubt this was even considered by Miuccia and Raf when they were designing their collection – uniforms and utilitarian clothing have long been attractive to the duo – but nurses in the UK are currently in a protracted and popularly supported battle with the incredibly conservative government. inept for long overdue recognition of the value of his work. So for a major Italian brand that has assigned the currency of fashion to uniforms that have become emblematic of nothing less than a struggle to survive during the pandemic years seems like an involuntary acknowledgment. “Because these clothes matter, the wearers matter,” Simons said in another shownote quote. “Because every day of life counts,” added Miuccia. I reiterate: the collection was called Cuidando.

But it wasn’t just the medical subtext, it was also the military subtext that resonated. Vladimir Putin launched his brutal attack on Ukraine a year ago. Since then, we have all been educated daily in the struggle of the common people against a tyrannical invader. So it made sense that protection was a subtext here: padded sweaters and skirts, wraparound parkas and backpacks, substantial leathers, a short coat. Miuccia said she wanted “heat”. All these clothes, so functional and yet, in their proposed proportions, up-to-date, suggested a contemporary and pragmatic approach to beauty, where emotion co-opts glamour. We have to take care of each other. Fashion is a mirror. It reflects.

And, from time to time, design too. When the audience entered the vast concert space at the Fondazione Prada, they found themselves in a room without the usual design flourishes that accompany a Prada performance. Instead, a gloomy industrial expanse, with a low ceiling supported by metal columns. There was, however, a strong and incongruous floral scent, the source of which became apparent as the show began and the ceiling rose to reveal that the columns were draped in lilies. A symbol of love at any number of weddings, lilies are also a funeral flower. Gathered on the ceiling above us, they seemed a beautiful but sad acknowledgment of beginnings and ends. The show closed with the graceful arc of Johann Strauss’s “Blue Danube”, the deep space waltz in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The past feeds into the future, for better or for worse.

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