Men's fashion week has officially kicked off with Prada presenting its spring/summer 2020 show in Shanghai. Yes, you read that right—Shanghai. One of fashion's biggest powerhouses has decided to decamp from the Milan Fashion Week Men's schedule to present its first ever menswear show outside of Italy.
The official reason? A celebration of the 40th anniversary of Milan being named the sister city of the Chinese megalopolis. Additionally, it is also a nod to the growing impact of the Chinese market and its effect on the fashion industry. Official reason or otherwise, Muiccia Prada took the opportunity to explore the parallels between the two cities through the different lenses of art, design and culture. That may sound vague, but hear us out. With any of her work, there is always more than one point of reference—often, it is a complex labyrinth of ideas subverted in her typical fashion.
Perhaps the key to unlocking the inspiration behind Prada's spring/summer 2020 men's show lies in the first cross-cultural collaboration that Miuccia Prada had with China–the Prada Rong Zhai. Once one of Shanghai's finest western-style garden villas and home to one of China's richest men, as well as the gathering place for the Chinese elites, the house was left behind when the family made their move to Hong Kong.
Having had experience helping to restore Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, and Palazzo Ca' Corner della Regina in Venice, Prada worked together with various Chinese academics and craftsmen to learn the techniques as well as the materials used to restore the Rong Zhai to its former glory through their partnership.
But why is this note important in a review of a fashion show? Because the show is a tribute to the idea of time—to relook at the past, and to bring it back to the present with the tools of the future.
There is no denying that we live in a digital age where leaps in technology are not made in years, but often months or even weeks. Something that feels radically new today is old tomorrow. It is a notion that applies to the world of fashion as well. Soon this show will be another footnote that is overshadowed by the Saint Laurent menswear show happening in Malibu, California. That will also be overtaken by the onslaught of new clothes that will be presented in London, Milan and Paris.
So how does one stand out? With Muiccia Prada, the answer has always been in the clothes. Not in the obvious way, of course; subversion is the name of the game here. For the spring/summer 2020 collection, she took all the buzzy elements that made waves in menswear's recent memory—think gender-blending, logo-mania, functionality, sportswear and tailoring—and put her own unique twist on it. On top of that, it was about recontextualising the notion of era-appropriate clothing. It made sense then that the show was held at Shanghai’s Minsheng Wharf, the former wheat and grain warehouse turned art gallery space.
Back to the clothes: instead of translating dresses and skirts for men, she took the key tropes of her resort 2020 women's show—such as girly scarfs, layering and embroidered shirts—and translated them into the men's collection. But she didn't stop there, low cleavage tank tops were cut extra boxy and elongated. In a different context, one could make the argument that these pieces resemble baby doll dresses. But instead of wearing one on its own, it acted as the replacement of a shirt in the traditional menswear combination of jacket and trousers.
Sportswear drew inspiration from the '80s, but made in highly technical nylon and was given the colour blocking treatment. The colour-blocking element was also translated to highly functional parkas that featured massive utility pockets. The idea of functional clothing was seen in the tank tops designed with a kangaroo pouch. Combine them with matching colour-blocking backpacks, and pouches that you can attach to trousers and shorts, and with the pairing of sandals, it becomes an update of Prada's spring/summer 2017 hiking-inspired collection.
The evolution of Prada's past spring/summer collections didn't stop there; the shorts of the current spring/summer 2019 collection were mercifully lengthened and came with functional zips at the sides.
For such a multi-layered collection, Muiccia Prada could have been forgiven for bringing the collection into avant-garde territory. But always one to exceed our expectations, the collection was surprisingly easy to digest and wear. Even if you had no context about what the collection is about, it is hard to not fall in love with the elongated mixed-fabric shirts, an extensive offering of footwear choices, and boxy canvas jackets and bowling shirts featuring graphics of VHS camcorders and cassette tapes (both silhouettes were considered revolutionary when they first debuted on the market).
Then again, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication—or is it the other way around? All we know is that time will not bury this collection.