August 13, 2012

Prada's Ugly Chic

I visited Prada and Schiaparelli: Impossible Conversations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art a little over a week ago, and although I found the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty retrospective to be much more captivating in its avant-garde curation, I have discovered that there is one idea that remains stirring in my mind.

For those who know little about the exhibition: it is a pairing of storied fashion designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada, who have little to do with one another, yet whose designs vividly communicate different themes of fashion.
Legendary names in their own right, Impossible Conversations intertwines the work of both designers in a series of distinct categories. Waist Up/Waist Down highlights Schiaparelli's focus on embellishment above the waist, and Miuccia's tendency towards elaborate design below the waist. Different sartorial personalities are spotlighted in Ugly Chic, Hard Chic and Naif Chic; The Classical Body, The Exotic Body and The Surreal Body showcase different themes in silhouette.

The idea that has resonated with me in these past few days is that of Ugly Chic, particularly Prada's role in the seemingly paradoxical terminology.

The Prada Fall 2012 collection has been the subject of much criticism since it first walked down the runway. Many first impressions - in the form of blog comments, YouTube comments, etc. - were snide remarks that the collection was ugly.
Generally, the retort would be that this is artwork. But Miuccia Prada is adamant that she does not see fashion as art.

A look from the Fall 2012 collection was included in Impossible Conversations's Ugly Chic section, accompanied by a series of telling quotations from Prada herself:
All my life is working against the cliche of beauty. And the necessity and obligation of being sexy, of being beautiful.
In our contemporary American society, where the bombshell is glorified and celebrities can rise to exclusive tabloid-worthy status via sex tapes à la Kim Kardashian, fashion seems to be more so about transforming the woman into a sex symbol. (Not to go off on a quick tangent, but isn't this such a sad demotion of our feminist kin working so hard for equality? Women want to be taken seriously, yet they glorify themselves as sex over substance.)
And this is where my appreciation for Miuccia Prada comes in, because before my visit to Impossible Conversations, I was neutral about the following collection and it didn't symbolize much for me.
But Fall 2012 is the epitome of Ugly Chic. It is exotic design flooded with femme power. Severe hair and harsh makeup with hard model stance and movement. It is femininity that comes from our (sadly) newfound ability to dress for ourselves and not for others.
In a world where pretty seems to be the most important thing for girls, Prada revives substance. Women should not dress to be beautiful; women must dress to feel beautiful and strong, and this is an entirely different thing - and, unfortunately, most cannot tell the difference.

With a digital age dominated by Facebook comes narcissism but not confidence - rather, a downslide in self-esteem.
Miuccia's collection is a call to arms to restore our confidence without having to depend on sex appeal in our fashions. It's testing the boundaries in a refreshing way.

Images via Pinterest
All credit goes to Prada


  1. DressCode:HighFashionAugust 14, 2012 at 7:51 PM

    Well, the culture and society we live in inscribes it`s ideal of beauty into our minds and perception. I don`t see how women could feel beautiful if they don`t conform to that much as people claim that "everybody is beautiful" or that "beauty is a point of view", we should face that it`s NOT. In fact, our contemporary ideal of beauty & attractivity can be measured (-> hip-waist ratio).
    And sorry, this very limited standart will not be expanded or changed by a few colourful order to create a change she must change the WOMEN who present her fashion first - fashion is about THEM. The piece of clothing is just the "outer, finishing touch".

    As much as I love fashion, it`s not the fashion who "makes the woman" - it`s the woman that makes the fashion!

  2. Hey, I think you've got an interesting point!
    What I'm talking about here is more along the lines of straying away from the idea that women have to be sexy. It's not so much about beauty but about redefining what fashion considers "sexy."

    I definitely agree that a woman makes the fashion though - I think what I'm trying to get at here is that Miuccia is trying to encourage women to be confident with these clothes. I feel like in this way it's a collaboration, rather than one over the other. I feel like wild clothing helps me feel confident, which in turn allows me to use that confidence to wear the clothes.

    In terms of the collection, it's more a representative of an idea: testing the limits of women's sexuality. It's saying, are you willing to wear these pants instead of favoring classic sex appeal?

  3. Hi! I came across your blog through IFB and so glad that I did. I really found your commentary to be insightful and interesting to read. Living in NYC myself, I have been meaning to visit that exhibit and after reading your blog, I'm even more curious to go!

    Following you now on GFC. If you get a chance, please do visit my blog at Thanks!

  4. I am really interested by these prints but even more so by your sex over substance comment. There are some really great femme writers and sex worker writers who delve into this topic pretty substantially and argue that sex and sexy can be substance. I am personally still exploring this subject but if you are interested I could def. recommend some reading on the topic. Really interesting post!


  5. I love the statement you are making here. It is time that we question what's considered "sexy" and why that's considered more important over style, individuality, and creativity. It's what's being pushed on young women because it sells, I suppose. But with you putting some thought into that, I have hope that younger women will rebel against the so-called norm to be their own empowered person.