Cartoon bananas, Surrealist lips, apocalyptic Hawaiian florals, kitschy tail fins with flames — Miuccia Prada is known for her eccentric prints and patterns. Another iconic motif arrived 25 years ago with Prada’s spring 1996 collection, arguably one of the designer’s most influential. Dubbed Banal Eccentricity — the show notes cited a 1980 exhibition at the Venice Biennale featuring mass-produced ordinary household objects — it hewed to a palette of avocado greens, rusty ochers and eggplant purples, which featured on solid-colored minimalist pieces and those with squiggly, hand-scribbled plaids that took cues from midcentury wallpaper and kitchen design. Another print — which was composed of overlapping abstract squares inspired by 1950s Formica-tiled countertops and appeared on gabardine midlength overcoats and pencil skirts — became synonymous with the concept of ugly chic. If that now seems like an overused descriptor, revisiting the collection is a reminder of the brand’s ever-prescient vision. Ushered onto the runway by a waifish brigadethat included Kate Moss and a pixie-haired Carolyn Murphy, it stood in stark contrast to the slick sexiness of Armani and Tom Ford’s Gucci— and it subverted traditional notions of good taste, and even earned comparisons to Dior’s New Look. “If I have done anything, it was making ugly cool,” Mrs. Prada herself once said. “Ugly is attractive, ugly is exciting.”
For spring2021, the debut women’s collection creative directed by both Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons, the brand provided a new way to appreciate that archival ugly print by putting it on slouchy drawstring hooded cotton sweatshirts and matching A-line skirts with soft pleating — on the runway, one model wore an orange-and-black set and another a green-and-brown one. This time, Mrs. Prada’s ’50s-by-way-of-the-’90s Formica-inspired graphics come overlaid and silk-screened with cryptic bits of text conceived by the Belgian artist Peter De Potter — “Exchange, Perplex,” reads one section. These additions, along with that of a large triangle of black nylon — an oversize echo of the brand’s logo — on the backside of the jackets, give them a high-tech vibe. They also link the pieces to Simons’s signature designs for his namesake label (he and De Potter are longtime collaborators). Part Raf Simons and part Miuccia Prada, then, this look back is actually a perfect emblem for the house’s next chapter. And, in the best way, the results are as jolie laide as ever.