my hatred for miuccia prada (or, maybe more accurately, the fashion community's reverence for her) has been simmering for a long time. that anger got a little hotter when another one of my least favourite fashion icons, scott schuman, linked to an interview with her in the new york times so disgustingly worshipful that it made me cringe, and i wanted to write about it at the time, but got sidetracked. i was recently reminded of it again following the critical response to her recent s/s14 womenswear collection, as well as the shitstorm that surrounded rick owens' collection, shown just days later.
it's hard to know where to begin on this topic, and not only because prada's opinions and artistic voice are so inconsistent that it is hard to keep track of all the things she has done and said wrong. a meltdown about having to create costumes for plus sized opera singers comes to mind. but hey, at least it's not galliano level, right?
well, no. in many ways everything about miuccia prada is predictable, trite, and boring. but that's what makes it so upsetting that everyone from novelists to fashion-obsessed teenagers treats her as the goddess of fashion. what is her contribution, really? according to the nyt interview, "Miuccia Prada is a fashion designer by profession, but she’s also an art
curator, film producer, fledgling architect, conflicted feminist, avid
consumer and unreconstructed socialist." I find this introduction interesting in light of everything she says in the interview that follows, which seems to strike down most of these claims.
i am having difficulty identifying what exactly is socialist about her. apparently she was a member of the communist party decades ago, and she rambles on at length about how fashion is the most democratic art and the poor can emancipate themselves with clothing, but mentions that she's "not really interested in clothes or style." she is, apparently, interested in the analysis and deconstruction of all the various images of femininity, but insists she's a businessperson and not an artist. the relevance of her clothing, she insists, can be measured by just how willing people are to take money out of their pockets and pay for it. oh, and not by how much it's emulated by your average working class woman on the street? i'm sorry, i guess i misunderstood something.
i would argue that the people paying for her clothing are generally those least poised to understand all the different concepts and images of women, since anyone who can buy her clothing is limited to a very narrow range of class and wealth and, therefore, social experience. furthermore, i doubt that the people who buy her fashion do so because they want to be counterculture or revolutionary. they are the people who benefit least from revolutions. prada's clothing is weird, and therefore identifiable. no one in the know can mistake someone wearing prada, nor can they be under any illusion about how much it cost, or what that personal branding means. poor people, unlike miuccia prada, may find emancipation in clothing, but rather than doing so by emptying their pockets they generally do so with style. miuccia is, of course, too good for style, and too good for democratic fashion. she cares about the zeitgeist not at all, and her clothes are deliberately impossible to knock off convincingly, or remove from the image of her brand.
and as a feminist she certainly seems conflicted - stating first that she thinks "this question of aging will define the society of the future" but, when questioned about why she doesn't hire older models, she follows up this statement by saying "mine is not an artistic world, it is a commercial world. I cannot change the rules." on the topic of her daring aesthetic, she goes on to say: "I tried to listen to others and it was all wrong. I have to do what I think is right." well, interesting. enough courage to put spoons on her clothing and call it social commentary, but not enough to hire anyone over 25 to walk the runway.
perhaps her most admired piece of social commentary was her last collection at mfw, where she put fur coats down the runway for spring, most of them covered with graphic art of women's faces and featuring bedazzled external bra appliques, presumably both meant to make an important feminist statement of some kind. at least everyone reporting on the collection seemed to think it was, indeed, a deeply feminist collection inspired by riot grrl culture, despite the fact that almost all of the models were rail thin, white, and in their teens, and despite the fact that most riot grrls probably wouldn't torture themselves by wearing legwarmers and fur coats in summer.
prada ss14 (image source: www.fashion156.com)
here's what tim blanks had to say about the collection: "The last time feminism enjoyed any popular currency might have been
with the Riot Grrrls in the early nineties." he also stated in his review for style.com that miuccia made "feminist statement that, in the light of the contemporary denigration of the very notion, came across as radical." i don't know where he got the idea that feminism enjoys no popular currency, but what is so deeply disturbing to me about this review is that millions of people likely read it and maybe even took it on faith that miuccia is a revolutionary who brought feminism back to the masses with high end fashion that will line her pockets and do nothing for the oft-exploited children who model the clothes.
rick owens ss14 (image source: totokaelo.com)
in contrast, when rick owens sent his clothes down the runway on mostly black, "plus sized" step dancers who performed directly on the runway, all people could talk about was that they made ugly faces while dancing, that there weren't enough white models, and that they were fat. it didn't matter that the clothes looked amazing on these talented athlete-artists, that they were practical and held together beautifully in motion, because the very idea of putting clothes on larger women of colour took all attention away from the design. the casting of rick owens' show was seen as a gimmick and feminism was barely mentioned. in what was one of the truest democratizations of fashion i've seen in a long while, the fashion was ignored. the fashion was there, and it was masterful, but it didn't make an impact and neither did the crushing irony of the popular and critical responses to the show. rick owens certainly has less clout in the industry than miuccia does, but apparently he has the courage not to use 15 year old blonde waifs in every single show. it's too bad that whenever a designer actually shows some interest in the kind of women who might actually wear their clothes, rather than analyzing theoretical women, it is only the women's bodies, and not the fashion, that get mentioned.
that's what fucking sucks about the fashion community. for the most part, it's just one big dishonest circlejerk that lines rich people's pockets while hailing them as the leaders of popular discourse on femininity. and as long as this is the case, there will be no real political discourse on femininity or on anything else in fashion, just commerce masquerading as art.