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Fall 2009: Recession-proof Prada?

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If anyone at the Milan men’s shows was still unsure about the effect of the global economic meltdown on the designers showing here, the Prada show hammered the point home.

Actually ‘studded’ the point home is more accurate, since silver studding and tiny eyelets were about the most fashion forward thing about the fall 2009 men’s collection, certainly the most conservative, least risky, and (dare we say it?) commercial-looking assortment to come down the catwalk at Prada in quite some time.

No one knows how to leverage the art of runway as theater quite the way Miuccia Prada does, and her shows are routinely light years (light seasons?) ahead of the rest of the pack trendwise.

In addition to the collection (more on that below), Miuccia Prada is also a master at using the space at the label’s cavernous Via Fogazzaro studio to telegraph her message. So instead of one show, she split the crowd into two successive, smaller shows Sunday night. She also stacked attendees on two levels of industrial black pipe and wood benches around a carpeted floor, simultaneously creating a fighter’s cage (like the mixed martial arts octagon) and an intimate runway in the rhomboid only about twice the size of a standard American living room that took up only a quarter of a usual show foot print. The subtext screamed scaled-back and cozy. (To anyone who doesn’t see the value of sending actual live bodies to cover the runway shows, this is the sort of nuance that the blog-from-photos bunch can’t catch).

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The techno/spoken word soundtrack reinforced the notion of using resources sparingly; it sounded like a cross between the plot of ‘Mad Max’ and a public service message on fossil fuel conservation, snippets included ‘running on empty,’ ‘imagine a world,’ ‘lines stretching for miles,’ and ‘blood and petrol.’

The result was a collection that didn’t make anyone think too hard: Simple gray topcoats; sturdy suits; dark, rigid denim. Some of the pants were denim in front and the Prada’s signature black nylon in back. Tops were simple -- and, except for the occasional studded pieces or fine-lined artwork in black and burnt umber at the neck -- unadorned.

Some pullover shirts as well as generously hemmed pants and short cuffs looked stiff and nearly rigid, as if they’d been cut from many layers of boiled wool and then subjected to great pressure, recalling the way jacket buttons were stamped into relief in some of last season’s pieces.

That pressure is a recurring motif at the house of Prada is no surprise; the label’s long-awaited IPO has been reportedly delayed further due to the sinking economy.

I’m sure the designer is well aware that it’s only intense pressure that transforms ordinary lumps of coal into exquisite diamonds.

-- Adam Tschorn

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