Prada praised in Milan as girl power, print cartoons and thrift-shop chic pleases

There’s a lot riding on this collection for Prada. Actually, there’s a lot riding on every collection for the house. It seems that one of the most influential of influencer brands of the last 20 years has rather lost its way – commercially, if not creatively.

As other luxury houses have fought back against the Chinese luxury downturn and other global issues, Prada has struggled. Only this month it said interim net profits fell to €116m from €141.9m and revenue fell 5.5% to €1.47bn after a 10% decline in 2016. Ouch.

So will this collection turn things around? Well Prada doesn’t really work that way and we’re certainly not going to get a Gucci-style complete transformation of the brand. But yesterday’s spring/summer 2018 collection in Milan certainly pleased the critics with one calling it “sublime” and many others heaping on the praise.

It contained many of the expected Prada touches as well as a female empowerment message via the use of work from female cartoonists for the big print story. Plus there was Miuccia Prada’s assertion that her muse for the season is a “combative” woman. There was also an 80s-into-90s thrift shop feel and a tipping into the volume trend, but all carefully filtered through the Prada lens.

Interestingly Miuccia Prada, speaking backstage, seemed to dismiss the commercial heat that the brand is feeling at the moment and said “I don’t want to be judged by sales. My life is bigger than that. My job is bigger than that.”

Tell that to the accountants, shareholders and financial analysts…

So how did that translate into the clothes, shoes and bags that will make or break the company next season?

Well Prada is backing cotton shirting in a big way but worn ultra-casual and as far away from its office roots as it’s possible to get. Summer coats in mannish silhouettes cut in Prada nylon, herringbone tweeds, and heavy-printed cottons also made a big statement.

Shorts featured throughout; plain, printed or heavily beaded for an after-dark option. And dresses had a thrift shop feel with loose silhouettes that could be called shirtdresses, insofar as they started up top as cotton shirts but morphed into dresses at waist level in richer, girlier materials.

The print and pattern stories were among the key features. Think knits or cotton tops with birds flying across the front (or spiders crawling across them), those comic strip-style placements, and inset tiger, leopard or zebra print panels on shirting. And a print technique that Prada has used before, screen-printing flat – so that small (or large) sections are missed out – figured throughout.

The embellishment was interesting, too – random clusters of oversized beads looked almost accidental and contrasted with heavy stud detail kept to armband panels.

Shoes are a key category for the brand and this time they came as studded flat sandals, lace-ups or ladylike kitten heels, such as slingbacks, given a tough edge with the collection’s studding. The almost-trainer shoes in power brights look set to be a strong seller, too.

The studding, and the comic-strip illustrations, also figured on the bags to give a seasonal update to classic shapes and styles from the highest-end leather pieces to the brand’s more casual nylons.

Interestingly, sunglasses were small. After many season where eyewear has hit sizes that totally dominate the face, Prada’s wide-but-shallow options might be seen as welcome relief by those seeking newness.

WGSN Catwalks Director Lizzy Bowring was impressed: “There was a sense of business stamped throughout Miuccia Prada’s new collection, punctuated with a youthful streetwise confidence. This is the sort of presentation we like to see from Prada – thoughtful, wearable pieces with that unique Miuccia stamp. The combination of embellishments, tweeds and sweet femininity along with a gritty edge made this the most compelling from Prada for a while.”

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