Fashion people talk a lot about how great things used to be, especially in the ‘90s. But isn’t it awesome how many of history’s best designers are working right now, today? Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela might have forsaken us for the cold, pedantic embrace of the art world, but Rick Owens, Miuccia Prada, Yohji Yamamoto, and Raf Simons are building history with their biannual collections. Sure, some legends are in their flop era, but many of our best thinkers are present and energized, not only with something to say but doing the most interesting work they’ve ever done. We are trained not to feel the monumentality of someone’s work until they are no longer alive. (We are in an obituary-forward era!) But it’s a joy to clock it in real time.
Simons, particularly, is in one of the most exciting and weird periods of his career. For the past year, he’s been working as the co-creative director of Prada. This is an unprecedented creative partnership in fashion, art, business, and, frankly, thought, which I don’t think the world has fully appreciated. Most brands, at least nominally, promote their clothing as the output of a creative godhead, with each collection, down to the handbags, a reflection of the ideas of a singular genius. (A few designers, like Jonathan Anderson, who likes to talk about his Loewe artisans, and collectives like Vetements and Vaquera, buck the trend.) But each Prada collection, the Simons-Prada partnership suggests, is a dialogue between two designers with simpatico personalities but different aims and ways of thinking about clothing. Most media seem to interpret it merely as a succession plan, or labor over the pair getting the “balance” right. That doesn’t seem to be what they have in mind at all—it seems to me they are looking at this collaboration-oversaturated world and trying to reframe the very nature of creative exchange and idea generation.
Of course, we aren’t here to talk about Prada but Simons’s Fall 2021 show, which debuted via video on Wednesday. This is his second women’s collection, and his second since joining Prada, and it was also one of his finest in a long time—a snob’s view of the joys of aging. Here we had many Simons staples—the snood, the too-big outerwear, the oversized sweater, the churned-from-a-machine color palette—but shown in an almost pompous reprieve from the long trips into the teenage psyche that have defined much of his career. Setting that tone in the first section of the show was a quilted jacket—an outdoorsman staple that has become, in the hands of fancy-rich-man brands like Hermes, Brunello Cucinelli, and Burberry, the outerwear of choice for the frosty wealthy European. (See my cult favorite Instagram account, @granniesofvienna, for evidence.) The bellbottoms that were meant to conjure up teenage flower power in his Spring 2021 show here had an adults-behaving-badly vibe. It was almost sexy—but more importantly, imbued with the mystique of adulthood, a magical part of life filled with more expensive handbags, fine leather shoes, rippling riche silhouettes, and suiting looks that suggest a sophisticated lunch instead of a business meeting.
Everyone is pondering what we will wear in the “after” times and my question is: who cares? Instead, I’ve been thinking about elegance and polish. Grooming. Looking “pulled together.” Stalking around the around the green-carpeted library-factory with chins slightly in the air and hair perfectly and freakily coiffed, the models looked like people living the sort of life filled equally with with responsibility and pleasure, in the truest sense of the word—the kind that children peek at through a keyhole. (The arm garters, which are little skeleton hands clamped around various sweaters and shirts, also made me think of someone older and wiser, a lover or a caretaker, holding you back from saying something embarrassing. Or your emotional baggage from the past, like the ghosts of bad choices or uncool outfits, holding you back! Regret—perhaps the most adult emotion!) There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel good or relax, but why not take advantage of the particular luxuries that are available to, shall we say, the elders?
It was quite Mrs. Prada of him—imparting a mood, an attitude, a way of thinking, an approach to life, instead of merely clothes. This is why we love her, and also him: the clothes practically beg, “Ponder me, Daddy!” But I wonder if he’s somehow gotten even better at it since joining Prada, where that mindset of showing clothes is the house speciality. It’s different than the approach at Yamamoto or Margiela, which drench you with cerebral emotion to stir you to a higher plane of consciousness. (Ah, fashion!) Instead, his approach is an invitation to look at the status quo and arch an eyebrow with a new idea. It is time, Simons says, for us to grow up.