It would seem to be some necessary rule of capitalism that as one of the top luxury brands in the world, Prada, which is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $15.5 billion, would have to tone it down somewhere along the way—get more boring to please investors, settle into the comfort of high profits and handbags and careful designs. Not Miuccia! Yesterday, as part of Milan Fashion Week, Prada and its 64-year-old namesake designer Miuccia sent down one of their weirdest collections ever, with heavily bejeweled bras on top of dresses, fur coats splattered with women’s faces and illustrations of sunrises (for spring, no less!), a luxe take on Tevas, leg warmer athletic socks, feathered headdresses and a color palette that looked like a crayon box. None of those pieces should work together; actually, none of those pieces should work alone. But while she could easily coast on a sea of brand recognition and high heels, Miuccia is interested in the unexpected combinations that are truly new. And because she does them so expertly, with so much thought and intelligence, the ugly becomes appealing.
In his review of the collection, Tim Blanks writes that Miuccia was inspired by feminism, Riot Grrrl, girl gangs, tribalism, political street art and Britney Spears. That all these elements are so, so different is exactly the point. So many other designers settle into cliches about the “woman”—sex goddess! downtown It girl! uptown socialite!—but Prada knows that actual lives are complicated, and that Riot Grrrl is as alive in the culture as Britney Spears is. That’s the truth of how life in this world actually is, full of contradictions. You see that in this seasons unusual mix of cleavage and lady-like—the Prada woman for this season is, just like us on our best days and our worst days, at once fashionable and fashion victim, Tevas with socks, red mixed with yellow, fur in spring, sexy on top, frumpy on bottom. Let’s call it fashion realism—we don’t always know who we are, how we want to dress, who we want to be. Could we be Kathleen Hanna and Britney Spears in the same outfit?
Critics are saying, moreover, that featuring faces on the garments is a comment on the over-objectification of women’s images on billboards and magazine ads. but even if Miuccia is a former member of the Communist Worker’s Party, let’s remember that Prada, as a major luxury company, is more guilty of using objectification to sell products than almost anyone else. “I saw them as strong, visible fighters,” she told Vogue. “We need to be fighters in general. There is this debate about women again, and I want to interpret it. My instrument is fashion.” But even if she’s striving for her woman to be a fighter, Prada knows also that she is radical and regressive at once, bad and good, moral and immoral, ugly and beautiful, just like us. To be a woman, and a person, in 2013, is not an idealistic venture—understanding that we are made of many contrasts is what makes Prada, and fashion in general, a much weirder, more honest place.