There has been a great deal of soul-searching and introspection going on by certain designers during these collections. In France, for one, it seems that they have been asking themselves, What constitutes Paris Fashion, after all? For them, the answer is not marketing, a sole interest in profit margins, or the number of likes on Facebook, but a sense of daring, freedom, skill, and fun that quite simply connects with people who would like to buy and wear their clothes. Strangely, many of these designers are not French, yet they are intimately linked to fashion in Paris and what it symbolizes. And it was up to an Italian, Miuccia Prada, to bring Paris fashion week to a close with a Miu Miu show that was a paean to all of those things, but mainly to the notion of the freedom and fun of French Fashion with a capital F.
She presented once more at the Palais d'Iena, but the venue had been altered again by Rem Koolhaas' OMA—the people behind the Prada set pieces. Slicing the show space in half, raising the floor and lowering the ceiling with industrial grid-like grates—this intervention in the building had an idea of "cutting through the past," as the designer explained afterward. As the lights were switched off and strip lights flickered on, the Eurythmics' "This City Never Sleeps" was played, and with its continual rumbling of subway trains, the show began.
A polka-dotted neckerchief, a jacket with a double sailor collar—one in navy wool under one in black astrakhan—with a calf-skimming skirt, stripy stockings and telltale shoes, all was at once old and new. That tailored hourglass shape hinted at the belle epoque, the end of the nineteenth century, or maybe the end of the twentieth, in its cartoony intent. As the looks continued—those sailor collars, the building of stripes and the spots, the flashing of the tops of stockings, the inclusion of sportswear and those continuous, sinuous lines and lengths—it appeared this was a reimagined Gigi for today, and also one that reminded you of yesterday. "Those stripy stockings have different associations," said Prada. "From prostitute to schoolgirl," she laughed.
They also hinted at the last time French fashion felt truly free, fun, and full of life: when Mr. Gaultier ruled in the late eighties and the beginning of the nineties—of the twentieth century this time.
Yet this was most definitely Miuccia Prada's contemporary view. "I had no time to think about this collection," stated the designer simply after the show. "I worked on instinct. I had kept the idea of taffeta back from Prada—we started with the fabrics here—it had reminded me of Isabelle Adjani in Subway. I wanted the collection to have the feel of something sport, industrial, contemporary, tough. And that polka-dot scarf was the start of Frenchness, frivolity; the starting from sport toward a more feminine feel."
In many ways, this collection could be simply read as the pleasure of pink and the joy of polka dots—the designer admitted she gets somewhat instinctively drawn to them over and over again. Yet the very joie de vivre of these clothes felt like a comment on what has gone on this season. To believe instinctively in what you are doing, and to engage with people on that level, means that business and fashion are not incompatible.
"If you are in sync and in the right time, try to sell; it means people like what you are doing," said Prada. "If you want to be an artist, compete with artists. You are not completely free. I struggle for freedom, for understanding, to find the places in between."
Then again, Miuccia Prada is in charge of her own history. Miu Miu is unsaddled by the weight of somebody else's past, and with her own nickname no less. And just as she did last season, she sets her own agenda that others follow. The merry-go-round of house politics that has gone on in Paris over the last few months is avoided when designers are in charge of their own destinies. To paraphrase the noted frock fancier Karl Marx, the critics have only interpreted the fashion world in various ways this season. The point, however, is to change it. That's what Miuccia Prada does. It is what the other great designers should aim for, too.