Last night on the Prada runway, history repeated and reinvented itself in the long-awaited co-debut of Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons at Prada’s spring/summer 2021 virtual show. Both cults of personality in their own right, the show marked the house’s first endeavour of co-creative direction.
But beneath the buzz was a nod to the respective creative histories of Prada and Simons—it wasn’t a motif, it wasn’t a rehashed logo, it was a gesture: models clutched at the collars of their coats as they made occasional eye-contact with the cameras and monitors that hung from the ceiling, chandelier-style. For Prada loyalists, this was an easter egg that cleverly reflected a trifecta of references to Simons and Prada.
The gesture called to mind the swan song of Simons’ time at Jil Sander in 2012, where he similarly sent models sauntering down in his final collection, clutching at their duo-toned lapels. This particular collection was exceedingly well-received, garnering a standing ovation and an encore—acts that now seem like a distant past after multiple virtual seasons.
More recently, Prada’s spring/summer 2021 show for men’s saw a reprisal of the unassuming gesture. This sartorial act of holding one’s coat closed is very much a Miuccia mannerism—photographs of her split-second finale bows at her shows often depict her mid-clutch, mid-bow.
But as numerous Prada archive fan accounts on Instagram show, the gesture has long made its mark in Prada’s very first look she debuted in an autumn/winter 1987 collection, where a young Kirsten Owen similarly held the lapels of a satin opera coat.
The gesture feels more than just an exercise in self-referencing. There’s almost an implicit femininity to the gesture, conjuring a certain trepidation but also a sense of comfort. For any woman who has clutched her jacket close to her chest—whether due to a sudden chill of a literal breeze, or more unsettlingly, the chill of unwelcome gazes from leering men—the gesture and its associated emotions feel familiar. The placebo of security that embeds the gesture is a uniquely female-identifying experience, one where unease externalises into the way we move in our clothes.
“It is an innately human gesture that can be transformative, translated into the architecture of pieces, to cut and form language,” said the brand in a press statement. The house of Prada has never been one to adopt literal—let alone splashy—cultural statements through their collections. But Prada has consistently managed to capture the zeitgeist, and the reasons why are palpable in moments like this one.
It’s also worth noting that the models in this show were all walking the runway for the first time, marking not just a debut for Prada and Simons, but career firsts for a whole cast of industry newcomers. For a collection so eagerly awaited by the industry and beyond, it’s an affirming move that sets the tone for this new age of a co-directed Prada.
The gesture might have been a method of styling in 1987 (we see this continuing in the falling shoulder-baring coats on the streets of Milan Fashion Week, too), and a credential of clever pastiche in 2012. But the gesture reads differently in 2020, a year where existing systems and humans have collectively struggled to keep it together—and perhaps it’s for the best.