How designer Miuccia Prada makes it matter
I’ll return later to take up this point.
But let’s digress slightly for a moment. Many women – and men – have a guilty obsession with clothes.
The obsession part is easy to explain.
Beautiful fabric well made dazzles, it’s a deep pleasure to touch and it makes the body flourish and flower in a way that nakedness cannot.
So, why the guilt?
Perhaps there’s a perception of the well-clad person as narcissistic, someone who opts for the superficial over the deep. There’s also the mutual exclusivity in some cultures of ‘brains’ and ‘beauty’. You can have one but not the other so…choose.
“Fashion is the first step out of poverty. You have nothing and then you put something on. It is one of the first things you do to elevate yourself.”
But fashion holds a deep significance in human cultures.
Humans have always adorned their bodies with jewelry and cloth for more reason than simple functionality. Clothes signify and represent us to others as part of certain affiliations and groups. Clothes express outwardly to others, what’s inward. Clothes attract mates, show others our artistry and emphasise significant body parts.
Muiccia Prada understands this. And it’s partially this understanding that makes her one of Forbes most powerful woman in the world.
So how does Prada use fashion to make a difference?
In 2012 the Metropolitan Museum of Art held an exhibition featuring work of Prada and fellow designer Elsa Schiaparelli. At the time of the exhibition, New York magazine quoted Prada on why she thought they featured her own and Shiaparelli’s work in dialogue with each other, “Probably they put us together because the clothes are not just the clothes, they are a larger idea.”
And this is the point. Fashion is part of larger, sometimes politically charged, ideas.
In other words, clothes have the potential to challenge boundaries, transform identities and act as forms of expression.
Prada herself says clothes are more than functional. What a person chooses to wear is a political statement, and an act that Prada sees as part of a process of emancipation.
At 66, Prada is also challenging conceptions of older women. A feminist with a PhD in political science, Prada still refuses to use older women on the catwalk, but says in a Guardian interview:
“The world is ageing, so from a commercial point of view, eventually people will start saying: it [being older] is fantastic.”
She’s an advocate for all women, especially older women, concentrating more on their work than on their wrinkles.
Culture, she insists, is not as an extra, a type of “decoration”, but its influence runs deeply. She told the Guardian, “It can answer political and even existential questions.”
Prada’s biography says her work:
“…has always taken an intellectual and introspective approach and revealed her talent for reversing the rules with aplomb. She is permanently seeking, curious and never quite satisfied.”
To mix the intellectual and the artistic; to show an awareness of our work as an opportunity to transcend boundaries and to use what we make to enter discussions in political and philosophical spaces – this is what Prada shows us is possible.
Creative output is a foundation for shifts in thought. To see the products of our imagination as anything less is to undersell ourselves in the cultural arena.