Miuccia Prada Is the Most Influential Woman in Fashion
Want to know what you will wear next?
Quite possibly a rah-rah skirt so short it shows your rear end or (if you are of a mind-set that eschews rah-rah skirts) a pencil skirt or pair of trousers or even pair of men’s swim trunks that sit so low on the hips they flirt with bumster-dom. They’ll probably be cinched with a wide leather belt or at the very least expose the elastic logo waistband of your underwear.
With them, a schoolboy striped Oxford shirt, navy V-neck sweater and navy blazer. Or maybe you’ll forget the pants and skirts entirely — too much to think about! — and just toss a jeweled flapper wrap dress or a gold brocade opera coat over your shirt. Then you might stuff an extra pair of shoes, the kind that gave you blisters so you had to put Band-Aids on your heels but you love them so you’ll take them anyway, into your handbag before sprinting out the door.
Or that’s what you may wear next if what appeared on the Miu Miu catwalk at the close of Paris Fashion Week is any indication.
But why, you say, scratching your head, would Miu Miu have anything to do with it?
Not just because the show was fantastic — one that seemed to be channeling Simone de Beauvoir or Natalia Ginzburg en route to the flower market after a late night of pub quizzes and philosophical debate.
But because ever since Miuccia Prada enlisted Raf Simons as co-creative director at Prada in Milan, freeing herself up to pay more attention to what had always been seen as Prada’s little sister line, the Miu Miu brand — not to mention Mrs. Prada’s whole aesthetic — has quietly become one of the most influential in fashion.
If in doubt, simply consider the number of audience members who arrived at the show in hot pants and tights (not since the age of Mary Quant have so many upper thighs been so visible). Or consider how much Mrs. Prada’s work has shaped what has appeared on other catwalks since this fashion month began.
Indeed, it would not be overstating things to say Mrs. Prada has been the muse of the season.
The Mrs. Prada Effect
It started during New York Fashion Week, when Joseph Altuzarra offered up what was essentially an ode to early Prada in cocooning uniform coats, sheer pencil skirts and frumpy knits — a theme that was repeated three weeks later in Paris at Matthew M. Williams’s show for Givenchy, which featured similar Prada-isms in pastel shades speckled among his lithe black dresses (elegant, but generic).
In Milan, short shorts — the kind that looked an awful lot like the hot pants Mrs. Prada showed for Miu Miu last season, which were an evolution of the truncated skirts she showed the season before — became the trend of the week at Gucci, Bally and Etro. Versace embraced the concept of the shorts set, which came in the wake of the Miu Miu set renaissance of early 2022.
Hot pants — dotted with costume jewels even — popped up again at Stella McCartney, paired with ruffled tuxedo shirts and cool suiting, amid the backdrop of the designer’s sustainability market showcasing various material technologies, and a host of her own greatest hits. Even Victoria Beckham, who seems to be struggling to find a new fashion identity, threw some bodysuits, with undies peeking out around the edges, under cardigans into her mix of tailoring and transparency.
It’s not that anyone is overtly referencing Mrs. Prada (or it’s not like most of them are). But she has become so masterful at cozying up to the clichés of gender, burrowing down and recontextualizing them, so good at using clothes to wrestle with the desire to be pretty and frivolous and serious and stressed all at the same time that her work has started to shape the culture it reflects. In the real world of the street, and the digital world of influencers.
At which point it gets regurgitated back through the maw of other designers, amplifying the ideas. It’s not trickle down or trickle up as much as trickle out.
A Detour to Vuitton and Chanel
The Miu Miu effect marks a pretty big shift in the biorhythms of fashion month. After all, years ago, when Mrs. Prada moved her Miu Miu show to Paris to create some breathing room between it and the Prada show in Milan, it was a sort of an addendum, or coda, to the week, after the mega brands of Chanel and Louis Vuitton had brought the season to an end. Lately, however, those shows seem increasingly niche; not smaller physically, but speaking mostly to an echo chamber of their own (paid) celebrities and acolytes.
Vuitton, for example, was held in the brand’s new building on the Champs-Élysées, a former Art Deco palace hotel, now a construction site for what the brand would only describe as “a new project.”
The soaring ground floor interior had been shrink-wrapped in orange plastic (100 percent recycled and 100 percent recyclable said the show notes) to resemble the interior of a hot-air balloon because, you know, travel (and the brand’s birth as a trunk maker). And because the clothes from the designer Nicolas Ghesquière — layers of striped and plaid mousseline belted at the hip, with leather jackets, candy-cane clown pants and elaborately beaded tweeds — had their own floaty fussiness to match.
They were complicated-looking, no matter how light the construction, which paradoxically gave them a very French air. You don’t want to wear them, but they are compelling all the same. Even if they also seem like a very acquired taste that might take too much effort to acquire, like sweetbreads.
At Chanel, meanwhile, Virginie Viard was riffing on the Villa de Noailles, the 1920s artistic salon in the South of France and the creative milieu Coco shared, with bouclés and seaside stripes, long-line bathing suits and flirty cover-ups, logos and flowers and pearls galore. The problem is, for every great piece — a pleated black and white halter neck gown, for example, or a kind of ironically fun tweed caftan — there’s another that has all the subtlety of boardwalk souvenir shop Chanel without any of the irony.
It’s Mrs. Prada’s self-awareness and ability to both love fashion and recognize the issues with it, to embrace the inherent tensions and related absurdity of even worrying about such tensions, that makes it possible for so many to recognize themselves (or their many selves) in her work.
“Fashion comes when you want a distraction, when you are not too serious,” she said after the Miu Miu show. “But then you need to think about the rest, so you need clothes you can live with, and clothes that you can think with.”
During the show, a piece of video art titled “Gravity & Grace” from the Qatari-American artist Sophia Al-Maria played on screens set up around the venue, featuring a stuntwoman, Ayesha Hussain, in those Prada hot pants, gas station jackets and knee-high boots, going through different exercises with a sword and a cross bow, and twirling around like a jewel-box ballerina. It didn’t have much to do with what was on the runway, other than evincing, the show notes said, “a congruent intellectual viewpoint.”
At the finale, after Cailee Spaeny — the actor who plays Priscilla Presley in Sofia Coppola’s coming biopic “Priscilla” — had walked out in a plain black coat, the video flashed a close-up of a gum-chewing face and the word “whatever.”
It was the perfect ending.