Prada reinvents the power suit

Tweeds, wools and plaids turned up in Prada's version of the skirt suit.
Tweeds, wools and plaids turned up in Prada's version of the skirt suit.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

MILAN • When did the skirt suit fall out of favour?

Was it when women decided that they should stop trying to dress like their male peers because power did not preclude femininity (see: Michelle Obama)? Was it when Angela Merkel settled on a brightly coloured jacket and black trousers as her uniform of choice? Was it when the skirt suit became the outfit of choice for the lunching lady of leisure?

It's unclear, but these days Carly Fiorina is not the only person who wants to bring it back. Well, this is fashion. Everything that was out comes in again.

"Ms Prada wanted to go back and think about suits because we really don't do them so much anymore," Fabio Zambernardi said backstage after the Prada show last Thursday. As Miuccia Prada's design director, he was acting as spokesman for the designer, absent after the death of an aunt.

Within the basic silhouette, Miuccia Prada had created what looked like a mixed-media collage of menswear fabrics - tweeds and wools and plaids - sewn together in asymmetric strips, like sartorial compatibility tests, often in classic 1970s shades of brown and orange and burgundy and white, migrating into striped leather, alligator and suede versions of the same, and then into dropped-waist frocks.

Sometimes a decorative but unfinished pastel mesh dickey got thrown on top, as if to see what would happen if girlie fabrics were added to the suit soup (answer: unexpected things), or a sheer organza piece was layered in "like a memory", said Zambernardi; like a wisp of what came before.

In the end, everything was dripping with iridescent floral paillettes. It had the jolt of self-examination: Oh yeah, why did we toss that in the twice-worn, forever-discarded bin?

Maybe because the skirt suit had become such a polite cliche, as Jeremy Scott pointed out at Moschino. He swopped his runway for a roadway, complete with traffic cones, construction signs and actual giant carwash rollers, the better to frame a parade of boxed-off jackets and miniskirt bottoms in different combinations of the neon shades of traffic signs - orange, grey, fluorescent yellow - not to mention full-sashed taffeta trench coats with the message "Open Trench" printed on the back and a cocktail sheath sporting a "shop" sign on the bust.

There were carwash evening coats composed of alternating layers of fringe. And there were clear references to the double Chanel C logo, Chanel being the brand that perhaps most closely defines the skirt suit, transformed into two giant clamps set back to back, dripping like leaky faucets. They'll be laughing all the way to the lawsuit.

It would be overly generous (and probably misguided) to see this collection as meta-commentary on the construction of female identity. Most women do not want to look like a giant yellow feather duster when they go out at night.

But they do want a new way to express an identity that doesn't necessarily conform to yesterday's, or even last season's, rules. The proper skirt suit is dead, long live the thought-provoking skirt suit.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2015, with the headline 'Prada reinvents the power suit'. Print Edition | Subscribe