Beloved by critics and hailed as one of the most influential brands in fashion, Prada is also one of the most hotly anticipated shows on the fashion week calendar. And despite designing clothes for the house for over 30 years, it is Miuccia Prada’s mastery of reinvention, rather than an enduring brand aesthetic, that is typically cited as one of the key reasons for its staying power. However, in recent years the brand’s star has started to wane, caused by a slide in sales and struggles to enter the digital space. And this has prompted many to question whether the company can reclaim its relevance among today’s generation of consumers.
While innovation and surprise have helped keep so-called Prada-philes loyal to the Milanese brand, with collections shifting from the overtly ornate to stripped back and minimalist, it is the label's cerebral as well as its visual appeal that has held sway. And for those with an intellectual bent who would score high on the personality trait of openness, the brand tends to hold a particular fascination. Known for challenging conventional notions and norms, Mrs Prada has described her work as ugly, preferring to focus on what she views as the difficult, complicated or interesting, rather than the traditionally beautiful. Thus we have witnessed runways championing the likes of military-grade nylon and polyester, 1970’s style graphics and the decade’s now questionable colors. But it has been by mixing these unexpected elements with more luxurious fabrics and textiles that the brand has succeeded in creating its now familiar offbeat aesthetic.
While the designer herself has acknowledged that her collections and the rather uncomfortable space they occupy do disturb many people, it is precisely for this reason that others are drawn to the brand - those who perhaps revel in rejecting convention and going against the grain. And although this has been one of the driving forces behind Prada’s past success, how it will play with today’s new generation of consumers, many of whose loyalties tend to lie with more instantly recognizable, Insta-friendly brands, is now occupying the minds of many in the industry.
Over the past few seasons, Prada has attempted to address this new consumer dynamic by including many familiar ‘hero’ pieces among its collections. And only time will tell whether this product-driven strategy has been successful. But this season, the company has taken a much more thoughtful and Prada-esque approach to the challenge. Although the SS20 show was a simpler affair, which did not appear to seek to disturb, it was still as much about the thought process behind the collection as the clothes themselves.
Tapping into today’s millennial-driven conversation surrounding consumerism, production and social responsibility, Miuccia Prada took a less-is-more approach to dressing, with a Milan Fashion Week collection that was, in her words, “about the power of women over clothing, and of style over fashion.” Timelessness was the watchword, albeit with a Prada twist, with the designer encouraging us to invest in quality over quantity, and with personal style taking center stage.
To illustrate the collection’s versatility, ultra-simple pieces, such as the gray fine-gauge sweater and ivory gauze skirt worn by Freja Beha Erichsen, were interspersed with a selection of languid dresses, chic suiting, and not so minimal two-piece ensembles in statement, Prada-friendly prints. And in a new move for the brand, looks were put together, and in some instances pieces even designed, to reflect the chosen models’ personalities and preferences.
For the consumer for whom fashion is much more than just clothes, Prada has provided often-challenging yet thoughtful collections that spark conversation. And while this latest outing may have been less about questioning good taste and more about questioning social mores, by continuing to take a thoughtful rather than what has seemed to be a sales-led approach to its current woes may keep longstanding fans loyal as well as attract new devotees to the brand.