As you may have spied from my Instagram page, on Saturday I made a long overdue visit to Pradasphere at Harrods. After last year's beautifully constructed Dior installation, I was really excited to see how the space on the fourth floor had been adapted to accommodate all things Prada, and the opportunity to be fully immersed in the wonderful, diverse and innovative work of the label was one which I couldn't resist. Incorporating an array of pieces from the Prada archive, as well as a host of video installations, the exhibition, curated by Michael Rock, traces the humble origins of the brand, and the evolution of the design house from a simple leather goods store to a fully fledged, international icon...
The artisan approach and craftsmanship behind each collection are explored in great detail throughout the course of the Pradasphere experience, and archive material is perfectly displayed to offer an insight into he aesthetic of each collection. One of the most enjoyable things about any Prada presentation is the sheer variety which Miuccia Prada manages to capture within a given thematic framework, and her innovative approach to textiles and construction is something which creates a distinct, if constantly metamorphosing, visual code for the label. From subtle nuances like frayed edging to fantastical prints, to more overt statement details such as embellishment, overlaying and embroidery, one of the most important aspects behind any Prada design is that it is truly tangible-something which you want to reach out and touch (and of course, take home with you.) These details are brought into vivid life thanks to a stunning video installation at the back of the exhibition space- you really can't miss it!- prepare to be truly hypnotised.
Pradasphere effortlessly navigates the archive of the label, presenting us with an almost museum feel as we explore a series of typologies to discover more about each aesthetic story. Femasculinity explores Prada's fusion of masculine and feminine forms, from the obvious to the subtle. Elements of classical tailoring are juxtaposed with more conventionally feminine fabrics, calling into question the notion of power dressing and the performance of a gendered persona. Making the boundaries between two traditionally segregated styles more fluid in this way is something which not only suggests an element of empowerment, but also provokes a break in expectation- perhaps why Prada's work has proven so groundbreaking across the ready-to-wear market.
Animality focuses on the primal instinct behind the art of getting dressed- whether to conform or not. Elements of the really wild wardrobe are overt here through the use of feathers, furs, skins and hairs- and the idea of humans mimicking aesthetics which occur inherently across the natural world raises a series of interesting questions about appearance, artifice and responsibility. Figuration draws together a plethora of bold, vivid and often eccentric prints, including archive favourites such as 2010's beach print coat. Prada's approach to print here is very much conveyed as 'the busier the better', and again you get a real sense of how well each piece works by taking a look at the catwalk video installation- and it becomes clear that things which may appear static and over the top on the mannequins really come to life in motion.
Modernity offers a clean, crisp contrast to a lot of the more codified pieces on display- and is perhaps the most accessible typology. With an emphasis on shape and seamless construction, these pieces are minimalistic and modern- indeed almost futuristic, yet somehow with shades of the past woven through them. Iridescent materials, mirrored details and reflective embellishments play with notions of reflection and perception here too. Continentalism offers a more historically inspired aesthetic, drawing on Europe's rich heritage for thematic, dramatic movements and in turn questioning the cyclical nature of fashion by juxtaposing a cross-section of disparate elements. Finally Excessivity celebrates the fine line which exists between good and bad taste- presenting pieces which are loud, over the top and, crucially, well considered- at what point does excess become the purest form of sartorial expression?
As the exhibition concludes, we are taken on a meandering tour of some of the most iconic pieces from the Prada accessory collection- from beautifully constructed heritage handbags to shoes which mirror the characterful hallmarks of the label as a whole. The beauty of each of the pieces on display here comes from the detailing- whereas other designers may have been content to create a simple bag or pair of shoes, Miuccia Prada layers on touch after touch which not only evokes a strong commitment to a specific design process, but also makes buying something from Prada an experience in every sense of the word.
The sense of fun and extravagance which permeates Pradasphere is something which seems to stand alone in fashion today, and one of the most striking things about seeing such a vast body of work displayed so beautifully is that this is a brand which still sees fashion as an art form in every sense of the word. These pieces are expertly constructed, referencing specific points in time and yet somehow becoming timeless through the sheer innovation and originality which underscores each design. Repeated contrasts between simple, conservative shapes and extravagant detailing seem to reflect a dichotomy which is at the heart of fashion as we appreciate it now- between how we actually dress and how we want to dress. And if everyone dressed how they wanted to, I'm pretty sure we'd all be wearing Prada.
Pradasphere runs at Harrods until 29th May- catch it if you can!
Have you visited Pradasphere? And which are your favourite Prada pieces?
(Image credit: Sarah Farrell, please do not reproduce without permission.)