Unlike most other luxury fashion labels and powerhouses in the luxury business, Prada has had the same head designer for its entire contemporary lifetime. Since the mid-1980s, when the first nylon handbag collection debuted (and changed the course of fashion as well as the brand), Miuccia Prada, granddaughter of the founder, has led the brand creatively. Whereas Prada’s peers have ebbed and flowed and evolved over time, with regular new names heading their creative direction, Miuccia has been a consistent force at Prada over the past 30 years, churning out popular and unpopular collections, but ultimately growing the brand’s business and developing a cult following. I’ll comment more on the business implications of Prada’s mostly private (family) ownership later—this post is about Prada Fall 2019 menswear, which is very much a return to the brand’s foundation and core tenets.
Those are: built around a limited but highly versatile color palette, a focus on sensible tailoring and luxurious fabrics, a minimal amount of visible branding, but all sewn up with enough twists and turns to keep things interesting.
This collection is a reminder that the brand can still do taste while everyone else is chasing trend, though all brands of this size try to be all things to all people, all the time, so there is wide variability even within labels. And while Miuccia has never shied away from doing the grotesque or utterly bizarre, our society’s current snapshot in time feels like it needs a thoughtful return to decency and rationality (even some gentle humility) rather than an escalation of the weird and chaotic, aesthetically speaking.
And so, the Prada Fall 2019 menswear collection, minus references to Frankenstein, is really quite elegant and the first I have genuinely liked in some time. I’m no expert of course—I rarely watch runway shows or even look at the pictures (they are here if you are curious)—but I observe closely what hits store racks (online pages) and have definitely noticed a precise shift away from what the instagram generation is demanding back toward what made Prada great in the first place.
Prada Fall 2019 Footwear
First, something familiar: the Levitate laced derby shoe is a classic Prada shape, introduced years ago and resurrected for this season, only without the busyness of brogue detailing (decorative perforations). A simple laced shoe for dressing up, but visually lightened and made better for significant walking with an airy, clear plastic and rubber sole. And look, nary a logo in sight.
Then to amp up the drama, another classic shape with a twist: a laced dress shoe in brushed spazzolato leather, except with a chunky, tire-tread-like rubber sole. I love these because they feel so Prada—just different enough to catch the eye and express a bit of cheek, but still infinitely polished. And though the proportions are tweaked, they’re practical with a rubber sole and unfussy, low-maintenance polished leather body. In addition to black, they also come in green and purple, and in the form of a zipped ankle boot.
For extra oomph, there’s a studded version as well, though I think this shoe is plenty interesting with just the exaggerated sole.
Why strange? The square toe is a bit 90s. The color choices, material, and heel height are a bit 70s disco, a bit gender-fluid. Any taller and they’d be pumps. They’re a cross between John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, and 90s Banana Republic office wear (also echoed in the pinstripe suiting shown on the runway), with colors verging on the macabre. That makes them strange, but fun.
I’d take the black ones since they’re the most wearable as part of an otherwise standard ensemble.
Fall Ready to Wear / Apparel
There are always good trousers on offer from Prada, no matter the season, but I noticed some very nice colors and fabric compositions popping up this season. For basic, everyday wear, there’s this pair of slim-leg brown cotton and elastane trousers (below left). I appreciate a shift away from black and navy—brown lends itself better to informal wear, whether paired with a sweater or hoodie or plain white t-shirt and sneakers. And, a touch of elastane with cotton means these will move seamlessly through the day while remaining crisp.
On the other hand, as the weather cools, having a good pair of trousers to keep warm in is key. The pair above (right) are constructed of a wool-mohair blend, with a slightly more relaxed taper. Not wide-legged, just a teensy bit more draped rather than fitted. But best of all, they’re a deep forest green. Not black, not gray, not navy, but glorious green. Prada is so good at incorporating deep, rich jewel tones into its menswear. I remember a pair of emerald green corduroy trousers from this time last year that were painfully chic. In any case, both of these would be great investments in high-quality wardrobe staples in neutral and versatile but non-traditional colors.
For knits this season, and speaking of mohair, there’s a big emphasis on foundational fabrics and a mix of textures beyond the standard options.
Using a 67% mohair, 30% polyamide, and 3% wool blend fabric, Prada’s knits team has released a series of open-weave sweaters in a handful of formats—cardigan, v-neck, and crewneck—in a kaleidoscope of bold colors that evoke the prim prettiness conventionally reserved for womenswear. These mohair sweaters are feminine, but cut for a man. On the runway, they were juxtaposed with sharp pinstripe suits, the gentle handle of the fabric draped over the more pronounced shoulders and back of the male form.
Otherwise, there are more conventional knit options this season, below from left to right: fine 100% wool knit into the form of an olive (or black, navy, gray) zip cardigan, ever the seemingly plain but in fact highly versatile format and color. I would grab this item constantly to throw over almost any outfit, as an intermediate layer or a light top layer.
There’s also cashmere, seen here in dark forest green, alpaca from Peru that’s dark and insulating, and a shetland wool from Scotland that’s probably the sturdiest and most durable as a layer of warmth. The alpaca may however be the best combination of warmth, texture, overall durability, and price. All of these come in a handful of colors, but the basic palette is the best. And again, nothing special or outlandish about these items, just a quiet commitment to the tidy excellence (of cut, color, and fabric) that Prada is known for.
For outerwear, a lot of Prada’s jackets and coats have shifted toward the technical and sporty over the last years, owing to the popularity of the ubiquitous puffer jacket and nylon windbreaker, or are made of leather and are thus exorbitantly expensive.
There are however a few more transitional pieces good for layering in more moderate temperatures. Like, this boxy cotton jacket (below). Simple in its navy cotton gabardine construction, but conversely quite useful in a day-to-day sense. Or maybe that’s just me and the complicated San Francisco weather, which is rarely cold enough for heavy coats but almost always necessitating a second layer.
Elsewhere in the outerwear collection, I was immediately drawn to this white denim jacket. It’s simple and unembellished, but crisply chic. And so clean. It’s not dark blue, not light blue, but pure white like a dress shirt. And, without any fussy details (like lightning bolts, Frankenstein heads). If only it was easy to keep white things white. I’d be hesitant to actually buy it—but it’s nice to look at and imagine wearing alongside some of these statement shoes and neat trousers.
Accessories like bags, wallets, and eyewear comprise the largest share of sales volume and margin for Prada and its luxury fashion peers. Across a few subcategories, they’re a relatively lower entry price point for consumers, they don’t depend on body or foot sizes, and they can be made with less finicky materials. And, they don’t change drastically season to season.
What’s notable about the leather this season at Prada is that it isn’t all saffiano, a treatment that gives leather an artificial cross-hatched grain, a shinier texture, and a stiffness that trades the supple handle of calfskin for hardened durability. It’s not my favorite, and so I’m thrilled to see some alternatives this season. Like: city calf, a matte calfskin that’s softer and more elegant, but ultimately more delicate and susceptible to scratches. It’s pictured below, in fold-over messenger and drawstring backpack formats.
I prefer the even subtler application of the Prada logo by tonal heat-stamp directly onto the leather vs. with the enamel plaque, but these are still decently understated, mostly inconspicuous bags.
There’s still plenty to choose from in saffiano if that is your jam, but aside from bovine leather, Prada is best known for its nylon, which is both light, durable, and iconic. The material gets reinvented every season into a variety of accessories and colors, but black is the classic. As I wrote recently, the best examples lately are hybrid bags, usable in multiple ways, as a tote, backpack, or crossbody sling.
The capsule collection assembled here (call it the “Remarqed capsule”), while far from an exhaustive summary of all that Prada will produce for Fall 2019, would be an amazing base for a complete, albeit minimal wardrobe. Of course it comes down to subjective taste and appeal, but with even just a few key pairs of shoes, trousers, tops, a jacket or two, and a decent bag, this would serve at least my tastes very well, and perhaps that’s why I liked a number of the elements of this season’s Prada menswear. More than in recent past, anyway.
After a more thorough review (and re-review) of the Prada Fall 2019 offering, it struck me that these brands (Gucci, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Loewe, Jil Sander, Balenciaga, etc.) are far from singular in their creative execution. At any time during any season, there are thousands of individual SKUs, spread across categories, with variations and color options, as well as items and pieces that get negotiated as exclusive to certain retailers outside Prada’s own retail network. In fact, most of what is for sale on Prada’s US online store is exactly the trendy, streetwear-inspired, instagrammable stuff that I don’t care for.
Most of the things shown above come to market through Prada’s wholesale accounts (online stores and platforms that aggregate independent boutiques), which more carefully pick and choose what they buy from Prada at the beginning of each season. From a business perspective, it’s interesting to see these subtle differences in merchandising and curation around any given brand. I’d be curious to know what actually sells better—trendy things with strange motifs and splashy logos on them, or more core-collection items that evolve more deliberately over time.
For many fashion followers, watchers, and buyers, “Prah-dah” has long stood for luxury and beauty within a mood of seriousness and stoicism. At its core, it’s quintessentially Milanese (i.e. of Milan, the brand’s and Miuccia’s home). Milan is an Italian city with moods, roots, and influences from its northern neighbors, so it’s more modern and less antiquated than other Italian cities. Parts of it look more like Switzerland or Germany than like Italy. It’s a center of business, finance, and manufacturing, so its citizens and society leaders have classically been more conservative and serious about their work. Within Italy, it’s considered the capital of the prosperous, productive north, but also the least fun, least beautiful of its peers. Many say the city is changing and in my time there, it certainly felt like it was evolving to accommodate greater diversity overall, and was slowly changing to become a cleaner, more well-rounded destination.
In any case, of all the brands headquartered there, Prada feels like the one most tied to the city and its attitude. And though it’s now a global brand, with global influences and a need to serve many masters in its commercial offering, it’s clear to me that the Prada Fall 2019 menswear collection proves that the brand’s core identity and design mastery is still strongly rooted in the elegance and taste that is Milano.