His and hers. Equality. At heart, a strong political statement, but that was too specific for Miuccia Prada when she was reflecting on the collection she presented tonight. Her logic was more personal. "Anytime I do a men's show, I'm thinking this would be fantastic for women—or at least for me. And more and more, it feels instinctively right to translate the same idea for both genders," she said. Not unisex, mind you. That's not a word Ms. P. is partial to, though she hasn't found one to take its place. And it may have been a bridge too far to seek an answer in Frederic Sanchez's soundtrack. He used music from Psychic TV, whose frontman, Genesis P-Orridge, spent years with his wife, Lady Jaye, undergoing cosmetic surgery so they could become gender-neutral human beings who looked like each other. Pandrogeny, that's called.
But maybe the measured performance Prada staged—against a set of a huge, limpid blue swimming pool, ironic symbol of summer—didn't really need that kind of definition. It spoke for itself in its restraint and peculiar dignity. "When you do a women's show, it's never enough," she said, suggesting that it was a relief to work on something more realistic. There were clues, as usual, in the hors d'oeuvres the audience was served: vol-au-vent, Russian salad, shrimp puffs—fiercely untrendy finger food from a more conservative time. Conservative being a loaded word, Prada preferred proper. And that certainly worked for these grave boys and girls in their matching outfits. Some pieces were topstitched to emphasize their classic shapes: neat little jackets, jeans, boxy skirts. Otherwise, it was shirts and sweaters, with statement topcoats in leather. As overt as the collection got was a handful of pleated party dresses decorated with strips of glittering beads, but even those were sober enough for an audience with the Pope.
Right now at the Fondazione Prada in Venice, there is a conceptual exhibition called Art or Sound, which Prada describes as "a protest against uselessness and exaggeration" in the art world. It's no stretch to imagine that the realness in tonight's show was her fashion equivalent.