Those who read their Prada invite (this season, a raw-cut rectangle of black nylon) closely will have noticed that Miuccia Prada invited us not to her menswear show but her 'A/W 15 Men's and Women's Show'. To many that may have come as no surprise, as Mrs Prada has been spattering her menswear runway with women in pre-fall looks for a few seasons now. What did come as a surprise was the quantity of female models. Nearly half the exits were womenswear - 20 out of 49. An ardent feminist, you almost wondered why she didn't make it equal - but then maybe mere equality is not what Mrs Prada is striving for. What shocked even more was that Mrs Prada had chosen to explain herself for the first time. Usually at a Prada show you're on your own - no show notes, no fabric details. You're left trying to work out the significance of a mound of purple sand or a banana print yourself, pondering what makes the great Mrs P tick without assistance or pointers. The demand that one thinks harder and more carefully at a Prada show (it's a bit like Comme in that way) is part of what makes the label so great - they never make things easy. So it was odd then to find a little piece of black card on our seat with an explanation for the collection that referred to Prada's ongoing 'analysis of the relationship between men and women'. That said, really the text posed questions rather than offered answers or dictations: 'What are the unexpected possibilities, the various relationships, that may occur between the way men and women can or would dress? The way they represent themselves?'
There's a lot of opinions flying around right now, lots of noise in fashion and lots of comment, op-ed, vitriol and argument in the world in general. We live in the age when anyone can have an opinion at the click of a mouse. Maybe Mrs Prada was tired of misinterpretations, or just couldn't face a load of agitation from conservative and narrow-minded male press about why so many girls were grabbing the limelight when we're in Milan to see men's fashion (what a boring argument). But she seemed keen to set records straight, to silence gossiping and fussing, while also provoking debate. That sense of calm and reduction extended to the fashion. The bells and whistles and aesthetic noise that have become such a part of the modern fashion world thanks to online shopping and street style had been totally removed. Prada's age old obsession with 'bad' fabrics was the talking point; see all that black nylon, a throwback to the mid 80s when Mrs Prada's nylon backpack took the world by storm. Today, it's a well known fact that colours sell online. Black does awfully. This collection was entirely black, grey and navy. From her gender politics to her fashion, Mrs Prada is not prepared to bow to the status quo.
While it wasn't the women that wore the trousers, it was a female in the standout look. In a sea of dark neutrals, a checked coat in red and bold blue appeared. It was an anomaly, a misfit, a sore thumb that could have almost wandered off the catwalk of a neighbouring runway and into the Prada space (this season divided into several small rooms that seemed to be a cross between a nightclub and a space ship, and which served to lessen the 'drama' and opulence of a fashion show as the mob was split up and divided - the crowd, the mass emotion, the people-watching and the sense of theatre, was all removed. It gave a sense of intimacy between viewer and collection). That coat was a clever way of offsetting the femininity and sensuality of the other female looks. While the boys came out in uniforms built from the staples of commuter life - from the trenches with a rolled up cuffs to minimal, boxy polos - the women looked better set to go for a cocktail. They wore dresses slit down to the bust or left bare at the back that were decorated with cliches of femininity - bows. Was Mrs Prada deliberately trying to make her women look like accessories to the men? Were they just beautifully wrapped-up objects? Arm candy? Maybe that was the point, but that checked coat disrupted proceedings. It rendered the Prada female the dominating attention-grabber. The standout star in a sea of deliberately interchangeable men. That's much more empowering than simply resorting to the cliches of androgyny and dressing women in 'boyfriend' pieces. Indeed, while this was a comment on gender relations, it left women's and men's wardrobes distinct.
That said, as we demand gender equality and mutual opportunities in all other aspects of life it does seem strange that fashion - for the most part, a progressive, liberal field - still splits its boys and girls and makes its designer divide their ideas. Mrs Prada refuses to be so conventional with her inspirations and moods - if something feels right for a girl, she'll show it on a girl. If womenswear inspires her menswear, so be it. One walked away thinking about access and expectations - about why we see some things as legitimate and others as shocking. In an age where the progressive world allows women freedom to go any way and assume any role, how odd that a woman on a runway can cause furore. Maybe this was about breaking taboos and also breaking down barriers and proving that women, and for that matter men, should be free to come and go as they please whatever the context.