prada, vivienne westwood and calvin klein bring a social message to milan
At the Milan men’s shows, designers made a case for using their platforms as Miuccia Prada commented on a world in chaos, and Vivienne Westwood and Calvin Klein captured the spirit of the times.
It is said that in times of sorrow, artists produce their best work. Perhaps it was the loss of Miuccia Prada's beloved aunt last autumn, which made her think about the state of the world-war, migration, terror, pollution. It put her in a solemn frame of mind that generated the kind of romanticism, which historically always springs from suffering. And history was her key word. "If you look at mankind during bad or difficult periods, and if you look at the past and look at today, there are so many similarities," she said backstage. Prada used the sea as her historic representation of universal difficult times - "the sea is a symbol of migration and wars" - and so the collection was born: romantic naval military coats and jackets, sailor's hats and shirts. It was as uncomplicated as that, and in that transition from previous more convoluted seasons, some of her best and most precise work in a long time.
The fact that fashion reflects and influences what's going on in the world is no great epiphany, but the Prada effect of it was. Backstage, not a single dull question about fabrication or technique was asked by the horde of journalists surrounding Mrs Prada. This was purely about the message, and her words weighed heavily, like the fashion show preacher woman she is to this industry. "The square, a public ceremony," she said of this season's set: stairs and pillars. "There was a time when people were killed in the public squares-the rich, the poor, the strange. The square is a place of the revolution. It represents what's happening." If it were a sly backhand to the at times mindless fashion show circus in which we currently find ourselves, she was spot on. In a world of social media and mass-consumption, designers have a responsibility to reflect and affect what's going on in the world. Much is said about the relevance of fashion weeks, but nothing defends their existence like fashion's cultural, political and historical influence.
The shows represent that square of public social reflection: a speaker's corner for opinion-makers, who - granted - also happen to make money selling those statements. But at least they mean something, and there's no excuse for designers not to use their platforms the way Prada did it this season. The collection, of course, didn't just sum up the terrors of the world but actually offered a solution, even if it was a familiar one. "Reflect what's happening now in history and see if we have something to learn," Mrs Prada said. Shirts featuring prints created by the French artist Christophe Chemin mixed the heroes of history with the heroes of pop culture, from Hercules to Elvis Presley, offering an ironic comment on the idols, saviours and role models we look to in difficult times. "You have to be deeply serious and deeply human to understand mankind's difficulties and what we have to face," Mrs Prada said. "More or less. Don't take me too serious," she smiled. But we should.
In all of fashion history, no designer has been more aware of her social platform than Vivienne Westwood, and at 74 she's as spirited as ever. ""It's still about Venice," creative director Andreas Kronthaler said after the show, which paid tribute to David Bowie but didn't neglect Vivienne Westwood's current Venetian cause, which was the inspiration behind the Gold Label show in October. "We did our last campaign in Venice, and it was a real interesting trip-not just because we did the pictures there, but because it's a micro-cosmos," Kronthaler explained. "If we save Venice, we save the world. There's something we can really understand there. It's an artificially built world, but they did it a thousand years ago and they didn't know what they were doing because they were in sync with their surroundings-with nature. It's about taking part in it. Every small thing counts, because otherwise we really are, to use her words," he gestured at Dame Vivienne, surrounded by fans on the other side of the backstage area, "fucked."
Scored with a remix of Starman, the Westwood collection's most visible reference was appropriately the revolutionising legacy of David Bowie and his pioneering influence on gender roles. It was androgyny via glam, the Ziggy Stardust way, and thanks to the magic efficiency of fashion studios the rock 'n' roll god's striped suit and platforms naturally made an appearance, too. "He's in so many ways so important, not only for the music," Kronthaler reflected backstage. "He did so much. When I was young he pushed boundaries. He made things possible that you couldn't imagine then, and which wouldn't be possible now." That, for instance, would be the Calvin Klein Collection show, based entirely on androgyny. "It's the present and it's the future," Italo Zucchelli said after the show. "First of all I always loved androgyny, but I just wanted to make an easy, effortless statement of the universal power of menswear, no matter who wears it."
He did just that, on a cast of typically muscular Calvin Klein boys in suits - and a few girls in similar suits to get his point across - but this time the boys were different. Their bodies left little doubt as to their gender, but Zucchelli's choice of longhaired blondes with elfin faces was interesting. It may have been about androgyny, however the message wasn't necessarily about looking gender-neutral but rather about a man's right to look like a man, who looks like a girl-and vice versa. In fashion and broader culture's current gender-fluid movement, it's something we should keep in mind: when David Bowie looked like a girl, he still identified as man. And that combo is still something certain segments of this otherwise so sexually liberated society struggle with. Outside the Calvin Klein show, hundreds of screaming teenagers gathered to catch a glimpse of their idol, the social media phenomenon Cameron Dallas, who sat front row. With over ten million followers, the responsibility to use that platform for more than just attention is now in the hands of him and his fellow cyberspace celebrity peers, too.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Jason Lloyd Evans