Often, when watching the uncomfortable dystopian moments depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale, and thinking of how closely they hew to the present day, I think, what would Miuccia Prada do? For that matter, what would any powerful female designer do in a world where women are subjugated to a patriarchal society and forced to dress in ways that denote their worth to society?
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Miuccia Prada and Donatella Versace are the two most powerful women in Italian fashion today, and their viewpoints on design have long been informed by feminism and politics. Prada, of course, is the subversive intellectual. Versace makes no bones about embracing sexuality and weaponizing her gender. Surprisingly, they have long been allies in their struggles to thrive in the male-dominated industries of fashion and finance, and their work today deserves a different kind of consideration in light of current events. How do women design for women at such a complicated moment?
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Prada started her show on Thursday night with a mashup of Philip Glass and Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” that featured prominently in an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, and focused on a concept of the uninhibited spirit of late nights, hinting at an underground that appears in the original Margaret Atwood novel. But the clothes were more conventional, largely focused on her signature nylon used in all sorts of coats with neon trims and accessories that replicated corporate ID badges worn by office workers everywhere, an allusion to the regulated order of contemporary corporate life.
Here and there came designs that nodded to some of Prada’s greatest hits, including heels trimmed with flame details (now in neon), nylon treatments, and pleated tulle overskirts. Also obvious were ideas floated in her previous menswear collection, including design details inspired by packaging and trendy logo treatments that look machine-issued or synthetic. Given her resources and comparative brilliance in the design world, Prada could have created a more challenging political statement, but instead designed something that seemed broadly appealing from a commercial standpoint. Prada said she was designing clothes to make women feel safe. If the results suggested uniforms, at least they were ones dreamed up by a woman.
Versace, meanwhile, is having a major revival while celebrating the company’s 40th anniversary, and she seems to envision a world that will someday be ruled by a woman — preferably one named Donatella Versace.
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Her spring collection was a tribute to her late brother Gianni, but her fall show returned the collection to her own point of view, which favors strength over sex. The designs largely centered on the punk tartans and streetwear we’ve seen as a major trend for the season, although Versace made these youth-centric ideas seem more grown up, feminine and sexy, wrapping dresses with ornately printed scarfs, adding tough sneakers, and sprinkling the looks with the occasional super-sexy dress.
Throughout, the outfits were trimmed with coins and accessories that were minted with Donatella’s face on them – quite fabulous, especially when you consider that when Versace saw the first prototypes, she rejected them for making her look too fat. I mean, if you’re looking for worship, you want to put your best face forward.