Miuccia Prada Loves Black and Brown, A Visual Essay
The reason fashion loves rules is because it loves to break them—how else to cast designers, photographers, and style stars as iconoclastic disrupters without a guideline of acceptable practices? Among the most bizarre and yet dutifully upheld fashion dictums are the ones having to do with color: Don’t wear white after Labor Day; do wear white to your wedding but not someone else’s; make sure the color of your bag matches the color of your shoes. There are many more to list, but the one that sticks with me like an arrow through William Tell is this: Don’t wear brown with black. It hurts because brown and black is Miuccia Prada’s favorite color combo.
Look backwards to Prada’s past 20 years of fashion shows and you’ll see that among her favorite colors—a long list, from margarine yellow to electric chartreuse to the brand’s custom dusty egg blue—are always black and a wide range of browns. Today’s Spring 2019 womenswear show opened with a black satin turtleneck and milk chocolate-colored Bermuda shorts. The Resort 2019 show began similarly, with Julia Nobis in a short-sleeved turtleneck and a long, sheer chestnut skirt.
But long before 2018, Mrs. Prada was proposing russet and black cocktail frocks with a ‘40s spin for Fall 2016, wrinkled Mediterranean bralettes and pencil skirts in umber and black for Spring 2009, and textured skirt suits in a golden caramel and black for Fall 2007. It’s so pervasive a combo that Mrs. Prada’s earliest shows in the ‘90s feature whole passes in brown and black, sometimes together, sometimes not.
It seems almost redundant to say that black and brown are not exactly a combination that gets the blood pumping. In most instances, black and brown work together to a sort of drab, ‘70s effect—the sepia tones of wood-paneled basements and groovy disco looks. These difficult secondary colors of the mid-‘70s have long been Mrs. P’s favorites, allowing her to play deep into ideas of the jolie-laide.
What place do they have in today’s world, in today’s collections of pretty, happy, sweetheart clothes and sweetheart colors? Brown and black together are a rebuttal to the beauty of Instagram pastels and vivacious corals and cobalts and verdant greens. It’s a marriage of the two most underwhelming, universal neutrals. Navy, at least, has seafaring connotations, a spritely quality associated with the French, or something schoolish and bookish, however you cut it. But brown and black, dear god: together they are essentially a plea to be looked away from. And yet in the hands of Mrs. P you just can’t. I’d argue her skill here, and the reason she keeps returning to these shades, has something to do with proportion. With two of the most mundane colors, Prada turns your eye away from wearability or sex appeal or salability, instead asking “Doesn’t this three-quarter evening shape look funny? What about this super-slick nod to the ‘90s? Do you like sumptuous textures or would you prefer gloss?” Or maybe it’s none of that. Miuccia Prada is a longstanding socialist and onetime secretary of the Italian Communist party—what colors are more of the people that black and brown? (Remember Mrs. P came of age in Italy during a time before the mainstream popularization of denim.) Could this be her own micro rebellion against the capitalism of luxury fashion, an elevation of the everywoman hidden beside $3,000 bags? That would be great, wouldn’t it? But we’ll probably never know for sure. No matter, it won’t stop us from trying to get the look.
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