Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The devil wears llama: Prada's alpaca moment

I've always thought it was supposed to be uncool to wear a band's T-shirt to its concert. But there was Paris Vogue editrix Carine Roitfeld this afternoon, when I spotted her hightailing it out of the Alberta Ferretti show in her own bit of Prada homage on the same day as the Prada show: one of Prada's Pocahontas-look brown fringed tunics from the spring/summer 2007 collection, worn over black leggings, violet satin stiletto pumps and just a black sheepskin bomber jacket to keep her warm. Then again Roitfeld does has a driver.

As I blog it's been a few hours since the Ferretti show.

In the interim I've seen Bottega Veneta ('tough chic' grommet-embellished shifts and bustier dresses, with big maribou feather stoles) and Pollini (a Mod nod to the '60s) and am now a throng is waiting for Prada to start. The 7pm Prada show to be precise.

As with a few of the bigger brands here, Prada has two shows, back-to-back.

When the shows are on, the entire street outside Prada's show venue swarms for several hours with fashion folk, all trying to squeeze through a ludicrously small doorway manned by three burly security guards. There are a couple of cafes across the road which do a roaring trade at these times of the year. I'm in the same one I was in this time six months ago and it's had a bit of a refurb in the interim - apart from swish new silver tables and chairs (actually I preferred the grungy old ones), they've installed poker machines next to the loo.

Two tables away from me sits Italian eccentric Anna Piaggi, she of the gazillion garish getups and contributor to Vogue Italia.

Piaggi's way too cool for a Prada homage on the show day. She's wearing a pair of black and white harlequin pants, a black and white maxi cardi with tribal face intarsia motif across the back, a matching B/W mini top hat cocked to the side atop her blue-tinted grey mop of hair - and enough face powder and rouge to put Marie Antoinette out of business.

I do believe Piaggi is having a beer. I'm having a hot chocolate - which, as anyone who has ever ordered such a thing in Italy would know, has the consistency of warm chocolate cake icing. This is my seventh show today - six of them without tickets. Believe me, I need the sugar hit.

The 6pm show crowd starts to emerge and the 7pm'ers are all off, out of the cafe and into the Prada melee.

"Trying ... to... get... through... the... door" stutters one fashionista to her friend as the crowd surges forward.

"What the hell would happen if there was a fire?" mutters another.

Once inside I ask a mate who saw the first show, "What's the theme?".

"Futuristic" he replies, which surprises me given that so many of the fashion pack went back to the future last season and Prada generally doesn't like to fall into line.

Inside, the warehouse space has been transformed into a sort of sci-fi Coliseum: the seats, white foam cubes, have been arranged in a large circle, and enclosed by a series of large, curved plastic screens in eye-popping safety orange.

"Oh it's EasyJet orange" quips one Brit tv anchor, referring to the UK budget airline (whose livery is not dissimilar to that of JetStar).

The lights go down, the models walk out on the ground-level runway that meanders through the seating by way of a series of black lacquer varnish "tracks" - so glossy that at least one model almost slips over as she walks along.

Although the venue looked sci-fi, and certainly some of the fabrics appear new age synthetic, as it later emerges there's more hands-on craft to their design than manufacturing.

After the first series of suits, coats and shift dresses with plain fronts but boasting back poufs, in a severe grey wool - and the season's by now ubiquitous cape, in Prada's case a cape coat with slashes for the armholes - there's a series of other far more complicated garments.

Almost the entire collection is trompe l'oeil: Glam Rock-look three-quarter-length coats, chubbies and even tanks in what at first appears to be some kind of fur, but which I am later told is whorled alpaca wool.

A series of colour-graduated woollen dresses, sleeveless coat dresses and skirts are transformed from top to bottom with what appears at first to be a spraypaint and blister-look silk applique effect, but emerges is Shetland wool shot with a silk thread that has been 'pulled' out of the fabric, with a layer of silk fused on top. Chubby T-shirts and A-line skirts in bright orange, forget-me-not blue and astroturf green appear to be fashioned from some uncomfortable foam packing material - but which in fact is soft mohair knit painted with an acrylic gaze.

Little black cocktail dresses have literally cock tails: bustles and poufs made from real cock feathers and black plastic paillette strips. About the only garments that are exactly what they seem are the pencil and box pleat skirts with loose, boxy matching jackets in a natural leather.

It's another intellectual tour de force from Prada who, I once read, agonises over whether her new collections are "new" enough each season - and a volte face from the previous day's show by Armani, who has been stuck in the same design rut since the Eighties.

It's also a radical departure from Prada's previous winter's "savage" collection which boasted luxurious fur trims and entire fur backs on garments ranging from parkas to trench coats.

Backstage, Prada flatly denies the anti-fur movement has had anything to do with her fabric choices this season.

A line of wellwishers treks through to give Prada their regards - including Roitfeld who makes a point of drawing Prada's attention to the fact that she's wearing a Prada outfit, making a stupid grin as if to say, "Yeah, Prada advertising this way thanks".

A troika of journos, including me, gathers to prod the normally interview-shy designer - before she abruptly cuts us off.

These are some of the direct responses to my questions:

The material in the "fur" coats was not in fact fur?
Miuccia Prada: Alpaca, something that looked like fur but not fur at all. A very expensive, strange material that nearly doesn't exist anymore.

What was your starting point for the collection?
The idea was to do like fake classics, the starting point was that no shapes, no volume, no couture, something very simple but with interesting material. Material that was completely new - a lot of research went into the material. And also colours.

But it is in fact almost couture-like, since it's a very complicated effect.
Yes but the result should be very strict in a way.

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