It’s a strange contradiction that Prada, one of the most forward-looking influencer brands creatively, should a few years ago have been so slow to pick up on the technology wave that was about to sweep over luxury retail. The importance of things like the internet and social media passed it by and it’s been very late to throw its beautifully designed hat into the ring.
It’s made other mistakes too and despite continuing to turn out powerful collections, has been the slowest of the big luxury names to recover from the luxury downturn. So much so that sales, profits and the share price have been on a downward trajectory for a little too long for any of us to feel comfortable with.
Yet, as I said, the product has been undeniably strong. It’s not made so many headlines as, say, the showiness of Alessandro Michele’s Gucci. But look at the two most recent main-season collections as an example – those prints, those knits, those feathers have all gone down a storm.
You see Prada’s problem isn’t really the product (apart, maybe, from a lack of must-buy bags). It’s more about strategy, costs, over-ambitious expansion, that slowness in realising why the web matters so much.
So will SS18 be the one one that really turns things around? Well no. It doesn’t work like that at Prada. In fact, talking backstage in Milan yesterday, Miuccia Prada seemed to be saying she was determined that she and her team would not design something just because it would be commercial.
Of course, commercial pressures can’t be ignored and the collection is just that, commercial. As such it should provide a solid basis for rising sales next season.
It’s not one of those heart-stoppingly gimme gimme gimme collections like SS08, AW15 or even the current autumn/winter offer. But it’s got plenty of attention-grabbing ideas, wearable clothes, shoes and bags, and enough to make anyone who buys it feel that they’ll stand out from the crowd.
Print and pattern is a big part of this. Those coats and skirts with comic strip prints (by female artists, of course) represent a a move on from the striking movie poster prints of the previous season.
The flat screen-printed pieces that leave small or large chunks of material unprinted work well too – and remind me of the AW05 collection when Prada used the same technique successfully before. I also love the spiders scurrying across cotton tops and knits too, while animal print (used here both as inserts or on collars as well as the starring feature of coats and dresses) are always a winner.
Key items include shorts (with almost everything), summer coats in tweeds, in comic strip allover prints, in those screen prints, in Prada’s signature nylon, even in vinyl. I’m not so mad on the shapeless dresses that combine shirting details with girlier full skirts, but the corset-style tops in damask worn over shirts or tees look good.
Embellishment adds an edge and as always with this label. Prada has frequently offered up a cool line in embellishment and here it comes either as studs that are worn like armbands or as very (seemingly) random clusters on shorts, pockets, and yokes.
But, of course, this being Prada, it’s the accessories that really count as that’s what the brand is best known for. For sunglasses, a move away from shades so big that you barely see the wearer’s face behind them is on offer here and is very welcome.
Shoe-wise, bi-colour studded lace-up, stud-encrusted slingbacks with kitten heels (real kitten heels, not the three-inch heels that shoe shops are always trying to convince us are ‘kitten’ these days), the heavy leather studded flat sandals and those power bright trainer-style shoes all look like hits.
The bag offer doesn’t exactly push the envelope on the shape front but the label’s use of the collection’s key colours, those comic prints and all that heavy studding pull these bags out of the ordinary and put them into wishlist territory. Unfortunately, they’re probably way too expensive for all but the very, very affluent, which is part of Prada’s problem.
Let’s hope the label can get its pricing, its store strategy and everything else as right as its product in the months and years ahead.