Over almost a decade of ground-breaking experimentalism, Miuccia Prada has explored everything from irony to deliberate ugliness to intellectual subversion. She’s been there, done that, and has the souvenirs to prove it. For Spring 2004, the designer turned her attention to the stiffest fashion challenge of the day: how to make feminine, happily nostalgic clothes without rehashing the clichés of vintage?

“It was about tourism and craftsmanship, many things,” she said of a show that revisited the optimistic fifties to bring back a full set of densely packed suitcases. Out tumbled every possible variation on the classic touring wardrobe: circle skirts printed with illustrated Mediterranean scenes, shirtwaists and Capri pants, sundresses and bathing suits, button-through skirts and lovely evening frocks, silk madras bras and little tulle full-skirted dance dresses.

What set the collection apart were the subtle twists, like the way Prada will gently mess up fabric with dip-dye and tie-dye, turn seams inside out, or leave edges raw. Something in the proportion of her neat little tops, belted slightly above the waist, to the fullness and length of her skirts, to the height of her T-strap shoes or pumps, inexplicably excuses the silhouette from the frumpiness of the literal fifties line. Meanwhile, students of Pradaology will note that her sight-seeing tour also revisits some favorite landmarks of her own career: the silk pleated goddess dresses, fur tippets, and grosgrain ribbons tied as belts, all of seasons past. Just another layer of complexity in a beautiful collection that will have women all over the world clamoring, once again, to go where Miuccia leads.