No one comes to Milan fashion week for its “useful clothes”. Yet this was the verdict of the director Luca Guadagnino, who sat in the front row on Sunday’s menswear show: “Useful, yes, wearable, yes, all those things. Everyone can wear this.”
Price tags aside, his point was this: just as in previous collections, Prada took things you might already own – a ribbed white vest, a backpack – and turned them into must-have pieces. They did the same with duffle coats, donkey jackets, black office brogues and navy parkas. Sometimes fashion holds up a mirror to what’s happening in the world, but sometimes it reminds us of what we already own.
“The most honest thing we can do is to create something useful for people today,”, said the designer Miuccia Prada of the autumn/winter 2023 show she co-designed with Raf Simons, who joined in 2020. “We always talk about reality, and we, as designers, are very aware of what is happening, the problems, the difficulties.”
An A4-sized tote made from the sort of aluminium flooring you might see at the bottom of a lido might not seem terribly useful, but these ones carried water bottles. A fancy handbag isn’t just for a laptop, smartphone and Moleskin notebook – it’s also there to carry your lunch.
With all the starry front rows and the megawatt glamour, fashion week can be a jarring experience. It’s also not unusual for designers to become fascinated by ordinary wardrobes, cherrypick the most interesting bits and try to sell them back to us at a hiked up price. This is, after all, late capitalism. But even if you can’t afford this stuff, you could still get the Prada look by raiding a secondhand shop, Milan’s Navigli market, or your teenage son’s wardrobe.
Among the jackets, there were also enough moments of zaniness to satisfy the true Prada fans. Bright white spherical coats which resembled duvets minus the cover; unpredictable colour combinations (blue and brown) and, in a bit of a U-turn on her usual anti-sexy stance, even some bare torsos. The five suede tunics layered over skinny trousers might take a while to translate to the high street, but they were among Guadagnino’s marginally less “useful” favourites.
As any major designer knows, it can be hard to juggle the commercial requirements of a brand with making things you want. Prada didn’t make €3.3bn (£2.9bn) in sales in 2021 – or become the second most popular brand in the world according to Lyst, the global fashion aggregator – by making things that weren’t also desirable.
Adam DiMarco, best known for playing Albie in White Lotus, agreed. “I’m Italian, so I always knew what Prada was. But no I didn’t grow up with it – I’m just trying to grow into it,” he told the Guardian. “I’m still just a fanboy.”