MILAN – The invitation to Prada’s new show was included in the huge catalog for Recycling Beauty, the current exhibition at the Fondazione Prada in Milan. Co-edited by Salvatore Settis, Italy’s pre-eminent historian, it covers the vast sweep of human history, but its essence can be distilled to an observation made by Miuccia Prada in her introduction: creative reuse fuels our understanding of modernity – the past fuels the future, in other words — while simultaneously reinforcing enduring human values like loving and caring for one another.
This was the essence of the new collection that she and Raf Simons presented. They called it Care. “The real meaning of what we do is to give meaning to the everyday,” was a quote from Miuccia in the show notes. And here, everyday meant clothes you recognized as clothes that served a purpose, obviously, a white cotton nurse’s uniform and an army brown shirt and tie, but also a wedding dress, just as uniform in its own way. Casual was elevated by making that nurse’s outfit floor-length, adding a train or, conversely, cutting the embroidered layered veil of a wedding dress into a short skirt and pairing it with a simple gray sweater and a brown suede jacket.
I doubt it was a thought with Miuccia and Raf when creating their collection – uniforms and utility clothing have long been appealing tropes for the duo – but nurses in the UK are currently in a protracted and widely supported battle with the astonishingly incompetent Tory government. long-term recognition of the value of their work. Thus, a major Italian brand that lends fashion currency to uniforms that have become emblematic of nothing less than a struggle for survival during the years of the pandemic seemed like an unintended recognition. “Because these clothes are important, the wearers are important,” Simons said in another excerpt of the showote. “Because every day of life counts,” added Miuccia. I repeat: the collection was called Taking Care.
But it wasn’t just the medical, it was the military subtitle that resonated. Vladimir Putin launched his brutal attack on Ukraine a year ago. Since then, we are all trained on a daily basis in the struggle of ordinary people against a tyrannical invader. So it made sense that protection was a theme here: padded blouses and skirts, parkas and cocoon wardrobes, essential leathers, an abbreviated ice cream. Miuccia said she wanted “warmth.” All these clothes, so functional and yet, in their proposed proportions, fashionable so far, suggested a modern, realistic view of beauty, where emotion combines with glamour. We have to look out for each other. Fashion is a mirror. Reflects.
And, every once in a while, he also projects. When the public entered the vast exhibition space at the Fondazione Prada, they were confronted with a room that was bare of the usual design flourishes that accompany a Prada presentation. Instead, a shadowy industrial space, with a low ceiling supported by metal columns. There was, however, a strong and unusual floral scent, the source of which became apparent as the performance began and the ceiling rose to reveal the columns crowned with lilies. A symbol of love in any number of weddings, lilies are also a funeral flower. Clustered on the ceiling above us, they felt like a beautiful but sad recognition of the beginning and the end. The show closed on the graceful bow of Johann Strauss’s “Blue Danube,” the deep-space waltz in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The past feeds the future, for better or for worse.