It is unfortunate for Prada that, in 2017, being compelling on the catwalk is like being rich in Monopoly. Sublime though the new collection shown in Milan was, with figures showing an 18% decline in net profit, what this brand needs is not applause but cold hard cash. Fashion weeks are now just one part of a huge industry where multi-platform success is essential. E-commerce, social media and partnerships with a ground army of “influencers” all matter as much as the show itself. Prada, one of the last of the luxury houses to embrace the digital age, is paying the price for tardiness.
But anyone who expected Miuccia Prada to be on the back foot due to the disappointing recent financial results does not know Miuccia Prada. Asked backstage whether she thought this collection would help the house finances, she was dismissive. “I don’t want to be judged by sales,” she said. “My life is bigger than that. My job is bigger than that.”
“Combative” was how Prada described her muse of the season. Pointy flat shoes, sharp-collared boxy shirts and a straight-up-and-down silhouette of long pencil skirts and slim tailored coats dominated the show, but the designer shot down as sexist the notion that this aesthetic was masculine:
“When society describes a woman who looks strong, she is called masculine. Why is that? She is not masculine. She is a strong woman.”
The show was about the female gaze – the show space was decorated with cartoons of female characters depicted by female artists “who make their subjects spirited”, said Prada, and female voices from Nina Simone and Suzanne Vega to Lana Del Rey dominated the soundtrack.
The cartoon connection was also a nod to fashion as Prada’s channel for communication about broader interests. When the designer noted that “through comics, in a light way, you can suggest very powerful things”, she was talking, surely, about her own job.
In January, the house unveiled a new strategy with the launch of Prada365, a new-generation advertising campaign dubbed a “continuous visual datastream” which jettisoned the two-seasons-a-year schedule in favour of fast-moving collaborations with photographers and models. Prada, the designer who once said she “didn’t like” e-commerce and “didn’t care” is now expanding into online retail. But any uptick is yet to be felt.
This year was supposed to mark the beginning of Prada’s comeback, but after the disappointing first-half financial results, its chief executive – and Prada’s husband – Patrizio Bertelli, was forced to admit that his turnaround plan “may take longer than expected”.
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