In the book Empire by Michael Hardt and Toni Negri, the authors theorise the death of the nation state and the rising of a new Empire, the result of a series of capitalistic processes occurred throughout history.
In the same volume they also formulate a new concept, that of "multitude", a strong, wise, subtle and dynamic force that opposes to the Empire reaffirming the individuality of single human beings.
Who knows, maybe Miuccia Prada has read this book, the murals by graffiti artists Miles “El Mac” Gregor, Mesa, Gabriel Specter, Stinkfish and illustrators Jeanne Detallante and Pierre Mornet decorating the walls of the catwalk show venue in Via Fogazzaro were indeed part of an installation entitled “In the Heart of the Multitude”.
When Miuccia Prada commissioned the murals she asked the artists to come up with images that tackled themes such as femininity, power (a concept that Miuccia herself perfectly embodies...), and multiplicity.
As a young woman, Miuccia Prada had an interest in women's rights and was also a member of the Italian Communist Party. It is therefore possible she was already aware at the time of the works of the Italian Marxist sociologist, philosopher and founder of the Potere Operaio (Worker Power) group, accused in the late 1970s of being the mastermind of the Red Brigades.
It may be extremely difficult to say if these were the real inspirations (possibly combined with heavy doses of art and eccentricity...) behind the Spring/Summer 2014 collection, after all, the designer usually never makes names or reveals her sources, but it is an established truism that interpreting a Prada collection quite often depends from your own culture, background and age as Miuccia has got this habit of mixing together different themes and ideas.
Catwalk notes may tell you something, the designer may add something else, but you could definitely see more links and connections, depending on your personal knowledge. This is why while younger people may interpret the Spring/Summer 2014 collection as terribly hip and arty; older people may spot in its chaos different links.
The graffitied eyelids may have been a bit reminiscent of Fiorucci models, but the murals digitally printed on dresses, handbags and furs were suspended between Pop Art and portraiture. The colourful faces were at times printed on the garments and surrounded by beaded motifs, at others they were framed by external bras (that gave the surreal impression the face printed on a coat was wearing bunny rabbits...) or reproduced as fur intarsias.
Repetition was the main fault of this carefully styled and assembled collection: there was indeed very little variation when it came to shapes and silhouettes (tunic dresses, kilts, A-line styles, simple coats...), but the colour-blocking technique and the bold prints distracted you from these limitations.
Bright shades à la Rainbow Brite-meets-Lady Rainicorn prompted some critics to claim you could connect a few designs with Richard Lindner's mechanist cubism, Tom Wesselmann's paintings or Sir Peter Blake's album covers (or his tapestries for Dovecot Studios - View this photo) with the kaleidoscopic elements in the titles of Christian Marquand's Candy thrown in, though Italians maybe spotted in some of the vividly coloured portraits of women on the dresses tenuous connections and links with the back covers of Diabolik's comics, and JCDC's kids a selection of garments borrowed from his S/S 2009, 2010 and 2012 collections.
The concept of multitude didn't actually refer to the multiplicity of designs or to a multitude of art references, but to a multiplicity of faces. Some of the artists involved in making the murals play a lot with photorealism and take inspiration for their work from their own background or from the people they meet in the street: Chicano and Mexican culture prevail for example in El Mac's works; Stinkfish's site has some interesting comparisons showing the muses - usually real people met on buses or in the streets - behind some of his most colourful graffiti, so in his work reproduced for example on the opening dress, there is definitely a collective intent.
Some of the images borrowed instead from the illustrators' work gave you a déjà vu impression, as if you may have seen them in a Prada campaign, on a record sleeve or maybe on a poster.
Working also with the fashion and advertising industry, Detallante for example features quite often in her work beautiful and stylish women. These links created a bit of confusion since in some cases you wondered if you were looking at an illustration used for advertising purposes or at the portrait of a model or actress who starred in some Prada-related film/ad (such as the one shot by Roman Coppola and Wes Anderson and starring Lea Seydoux).
There is an art metaphor that works with Miuccia Prada - she is a bit like Jack Vettriano. Though considered ugly by connoisseurs and art critics, Vettriano's works are a hit on postcards, diaries and coffee cups, even though they essentially ooze coldness and detachment; Prada's ugly chic is the same - a hit with a generation of fashion fans who have confused embellishments and bright colours with tailoring talent (and garments that most times ooze more coldness and detachment than a cheap Fiorucci plastic bag from 1981).
During the show all the looks were matched with tube socks or legwarmers (a look originally championed in the '20s-'30s by Nancy Cunard) and, in some cases, with reinvented and futuristic versions of Teva sandals to add a sporty edge and remind about the main theme, strength.
Yet the main weakness of the entire collection was hidden in this emphasis to reach out to a multitude of women and remind them they have to fight. According to Negri and Hardt the multitude represents the limit that the Empire and the global market can’t overstep and the power that will eventually destroy the Empire. The concept of multitude represented in this case also the limit of the collection.
Fashion and in particular luxury garments and accessories such as Prada's are not for each and everyone of us; designer garments imply a high degree of elitism and we all know that no multitude of women can actually afford them. So, while fashion is about creating a dream and a fantasy, the possibility of reaching out to a multitude of women through luxury items that only a limited amount of people can afford rather than fantasy represents a detachment from reality.
Miuccia explained to some journalists that you will get noticed in these clothes, hinting at the fact that your message will get noticed. And who can deny that? You will certainly get noticed if you walk around in any of these designs.
It remains to be seen if, after they have noticed you, they will still want to listen to what you have to say or will take you seriously. After all, Gandhi was wrapped in a humble white robe, but his message got across all the same.
So, yes, you can bet that the usual suspects will get noticed in a Prada fur come next season, their images bouncing from this to that computer screen providing visual candy to numerous fashion victims.
All the other women - that is us, also known as “the multitude” - will be fighting in their unfashionable clothes and with their words and voices rather than with luxurious coats. But then again, if you're an ordinary woman fighting every day for your rights, and against violence, domestic abuses and inequality, a designer mustard/khaki fur with sunny rainbows across the back is probably the last thing you need in your complicated life.
PS Dear Miuccia we would appreciate it very much if, next time you need a soundtrack to push and prompt women to fight, you could spare us Britney Spears. Opt for Le Tigre's “Hot Topic” instead.
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