Miuccia Prada did something she’d never done before with her show tonight. On every seat there was a printed manifesto for the collection—or, rather, collections. (She was showing both Fall menswear and Pre-Fall womenswear.) “Gender is a context and context is often gendered,” read the notes. There could scarcely be a timelier idea to address, what with vigorous new debates about feminism, the heightened profile of LGBT activism, and the misogyny of religious fundamentalists around the world. And, in outlining her rationale for the show, it was clear that Mrs. P wasn’t prepared to leave it as open to freestyling interpretation as she has in the past.

And yet she couldn’t help but excite conjecture. The invitation—a rectangle of black nylon—was a reminder of Miuccia’s foundation in the family business, and she went back to the well with an opening passage of pieces cut from the material. She claimed that blending collections for men and women was something she’d been waiting to do for a while, because working on menswear always left her wondering how she could apply the same ideas to women. The shared aesthetic today was simple. “Uniform, severe, elegant: This is the fashion I like at this moment.”

It was industrial, too—not just that black nylon, but a stark, metal-floored, metal-ceilinged set; Frédéric Sanchez’s soundtrack of Front 242; and the grim, urgent mien of the models. The boys might have been refugees from Madchester; the bouffanted, eyelinered girls could have been fleeing Le Lipstique, Baltimore’s finest beauty parlor. Either way, as a manifestation of Prada’s ongoing “analysis of the relationship between men and women” (thank you, manifesto), their presence together on the catwalk implied profound alienation, even with shared style tropes such as strictly belted waists and double-breasted closings. Gender as a context, indeed. Maybe it’s always been that way with Miuccia. She presents men as compromised boys, whereas women have been paraded as paragons of strength. Today, she whipped the epaulets off her male models’ shoulders and repositioned them as decorative bows on the dresses of her women.

But even that flourish was deeply ironic. “A bow wraps a present,” Miuccia mused. “Am I presenting woman as object?” It is typical of Prada that, after taking in a collection that wasn’t as stellar as some in the label’s longtime roster of winners, you still walked away with such a thought-provoking, destabilizing notion lodged firmly in your mind.

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