Prada, Milan (fashion house)
est. 1913

When this coat was presented in Prada’s spring–summer 2014 collection, it was presented against coloured murals by artists El Mac, Mesa, Gabriel Specter, Stinkfish, Jeanne Detallante and Pierre Mornet, echoing the political street art of Los Angeles, Mexico and South America in Pop art colours of the 1960s. Prada’s models marched out in bejewelled streetwear, with sleek, smooth hair and knee-length sports socks cropped at the ankle with embellished high heels. Embroidered over much of the polychromatic collection were the bold silhouettes of bras made from large paillettes and coloured Swarovski crystals.

The decorative bra was presented as a signifier of women’s strength. Since the 1980s women’s underwear has been presented by designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood and Issey Miyake as a symbol of female empowerment. Prada adopted this potent post-feminist symbol and transferred it onto the blue 1960s pre-feminism silhouette – the tailored wool coat. This clash of references read like a history of the postwar feminist movement, from the 1960s – the period that would mark the beginning of a second wave of feminine emancipation – to the liberated woman who would wear her underwear as outerwear in an act of empowered choice and as an outward symbol of the strength in femininity. The bedazzled rainbow through the lower centre of Coat reminded contemporary audiences of the flower-power generation and the sense of optimism and hope that was present within their protest.

Through her collection, Miuccia Prada asked audiences to consider feminism in the context of contemporary culture. ‘There is this debate about women again, and I want to interpret it,’ she told Sarah Mower from Vogue.com in 2014. ‘My instrument is fashion. I use my instrument to be bold. I had this idea that if you wear clothes so exaggerated and out there, people will look, and then they will listen’. As the creative director of a global brand, Prada uses her position for political means. She has said that the way you treat women is a political choice.

Born in Milan in 1949, Prada is a self-proclaimed feminist. She studied political science at the city’s university and gained her PhD in political science, then studied to be a mime, perhaps because she was interested in performativity and the act of silent communication, which is also subtly linked to the act of wearing clothes. In 1977 she joined the family business, a traditional leather goods company that had been established by her grandfather Mario Prada and his brother in 1913. Encouraged by Patrizio Bertelli, her business partner and later husband, she added ready-to-wear clothing to her collections, and almost thirty years later has transformed her grandfather’s leather goods company beyond recognition. Miuccia Prada is indisputably influential in driving contemporary fashion, often combining her political ambition with design.

Paola Di Trocchio, Curator, Fashion and Textiles, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2015)