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Hats off to Prada’s romantic nod to the past in Milan

<span>Prada’s emphasis on headgear had personality in spades.</span><span>Photograph: Daniel Dal Zennaro/EPA</span>
Prada’s emphasis on headgear had personality in spades.Photograph: Daniel Dal Zennaro/EPA

Prada, a brand synonymous with ugly-chic, usefulness and intellectualism, was feeling just a little loved up this season. “Romance and goodness is needed, especially at a time like this,” said Miuccia Prada backstage after the show, which took place at the Prada Foundation in Milan.

But Prada being Prada, this was not romcoms and red roses: this was romance with a healthy dollop of history. According to the show notes, “the past is an instrument, a tool for learning, used here to try to invent something new. Yet rather than an intellectual examination, this collection is an emotional reaction, to ideals of beauty that still feel resonant.”

The setting was undeniably beautiful – a recycled transparent plastic catwalk with a recreation of a forest floor beneath, all bracken and babbling brooks with real-life water, which had been left since the menswear show in January. It was efficiently buffed once the guests, who included Emma Watson, Tracee Ellis Ross and Lily James, took their seats and before the models walked.

But again, Prada being Prada, intellectualism was never very far away. “History teaches us everything,” said Prada, “everything from politics to fashion to art, everything we are comes from our past”. The idea of fragments of history was made literal via fragmented clothes, such as suits, the fronts of which were made from tailoring wool, the backs from silk: business in the front, boudoir in the back.

“[The collection] was also about love, love for fashion, love for beauty,” said Raf Simons, who joined Miuccia as co-creative director of the brand in 2020. But, she added, perhaps wanting to show the depths of beauty: “Why not think about good sentiment, gentleness, this goes to the big discussion – feminism.”

Delicate slip skirts were a thread throughout and were, according to Simons, “very important to us because they also relate to the other aspect of love that is the home, your home environment, sheets and table linen”.

“Intimacy,” Prada said.

Aside from love and history, the show made the case for the personality hat – headgear that says something, beyond the understated aesthetic of a baseball cap – a vibe that has been gaining traction of late. Exaggerated vertically and made of what appeared to be colourful raffia and feathers, some had the ruffled texture of a bunch of peonies, others appeared more like some kind of elegantly stratified pudding. All had personality in spades.

The collection also made clear that the current love of bows – which have taken over heads, bags and hearts in recent times – is not going anywhere. They appeared on a gamut of looks – tied sparingly at the waistline, nodding at functionality, or used to embellish frocks with no discernible purpose other than as very lovely decoration. “Cliches of femininity – bows, frills, ruffles – are reconsidered, their meaning fundamentally reassessed. Why do they persist? Why do they attract?” the show notes say.

There was no lack of classic black or navy, on technical outwear, sharply cut overcoats and blazers as well as on simple, narrowly cut dresses, but the Prada love of a wonky colour combination was keenly felt, too, with snot-green paired with pretty pink; tomato red with fuchsia, and buttercup-yellow with Irn-bru orange.

Speaking again backstage, Prada said: “It was not an easy show to do. I put a lot of effort, my mind effort, into the show because I really think it’s important to produce some goodness, of any kind … Let’s try to be good people. Let’s try.”

Earlier in the day, Max Mara, an Italian brand known for its elegant soft tailoring with an ex punk at its helm, had made a case for resuscitating the importance of silhouette. “Recent fashion has kind of forgotten about it,” said the British designer Ian Griffiths backstage after the show, where, in the past, it wouldn’t be too outlandish to say that the silhouette of clothes has been era-defining.

Now, says Griffiths, “it felt fresh and new to work with silhouettes”. Working with a classic palette of blacks and navy, he was able, he said, to focus on shape, something that was expressed in coats with what the designer called boulebacks and tulip skirts. Hemlines were long – elegant but not so handy for puddles – while waists were gently accentuated by woollen cummerbunds.

For the collection Griffiths had been inspired by Colette and had seen it as a way to “introduce into the collection something sensual or passionate”. He drew a line connecting “Colette’s style of writing and Max Mara’s style of designing. It’s spare, it’s lean and yet somehow we manage to pull on those heart strings.”