CWMALLS World’s Fashion Trends Sharing And Review Series— Miuccia Prada’s Fall 1996 Collection Was a Coda to Her Paradigm-Shifting “Pretty/Ugly” Collection

Following the thread of our In Vogue: The 1990s podcastwe are closing out the year and heading into the new one with a series of newly digitized archival shows from the decade that fashion can’t—and won’t—let go of. Prada’s fall 1996 ready-to-wear collection was presented on March 8, 1996, in Milan.

The impact of Miuccia Prada’s “pretty-ugly” collection of spring 1996, with its “off” colors (avocado, brown, ochre) and geometric patterns, both seemingly inspired by 1970s appliances and dishware, lasted for more than a season. According to reports at the time, so-called bad taste or anti-fashion was on the menu everywhere six months later. Prada included.

The fall 1996 Prada show reads like a coda to the one that came before it. The palette was more somber; one might say autumnal. Navy, gray, and wine were balanced by brown, mustard, and lilac. Bold abstract motifs were back in a big way too.

There was newness, observed Vogue, in the long and slender silhouette; slim skirts hit below the knee, and there were cigarette pants in the mix. Ideologically, Prada’s fall and spring 1996 collections were in line with the tendency, noted by the magazine, of “every hip designer putting an ironic spin on classicism.”

Are peacoats and cashmere sweaters fashion? Are “ugly” clothes anti-fashion? These were the kinds of questions journalists were posing, and Mrs. Prada kept them guessing. The fall show opened with a trad pantsuit, sweaters, and trousers, nothing to write home about, or…? The patterned pieces were certainly “editorial.” The mood was more sophisticated and “adult” than that of the spring show, until the finale of slip dresses. None of these had any BUtterfield 8 sizzle. Though some were rendered in a shade of lilac similar to that of the princess-line Prada dress Uma Thurman wore to the Oscars earlier in the year, the models didn’t project star power, but waif power.

Though Prada revisited some of fall 1996’s distinct motifs in 2010 (much in advance of the late 2010s reissue fad, it should be noted), this collection is most memorable for its laddered knit tights and sell-out shoes: antiqued leather Mary Janes with stacked heels and floral appliques. They were either terribly pretty or pretty terrible, and as such they somehow managed in that inimitable Prada way to destabilize stereotypes and assumptions about propriety, class, gender, and beauty.

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