White collar work is the religion of the 21st century. It’s where we seek validation and meaning; it’s how we understand our place in the world. The office is the place where we come together in search of something larger than ourselves. Especially in the wake of #metoo, it’s where morals and ethics are debated and reworked, cemented as mandates and codes that the rest of society follows.
Still, it was surprising that Prada’s Fall/Winter 2022 show took work as its theme—“Body of Work,” as the show was titled. The average Prada shopper probably has not been to an office in almost two years, trading business-casual for just casual—though from a cynical (or maybe just late capitalist) perspective, many people have made the pandemic about the right, the privilege, or the desire to work (or not work). Given that the global attitude towards work is, well, not great—so many people have quit their jobs in the United States that this period has been deemed “the Great Resignation”—you would think that Miuccia Prada, the ultimate weathervane of cultural moods, and Raf Simons would gravitate towards something more immediate.
But take a closer look at how Mrs. Prada and Simons, in the third menswear season of their unprecedented co-creative directorship, did it, and you might see that they were up to something else. Models in performatively grandiose outerwear, like big belted leather trenches and poodle fur-trimmed coats, walked a zigzag runway. Were they climbing the corporate ladder? Or mapping the disorienting path of a man’s progress? A number of celebrities joined the models’ ranks, with Kyle MacLachlan and Jeff Goldblum as the show’s bookends. “Everyday reality is valorized,” read the show notes. “Perceived uniforms of employ achieve new importance,” they went on: not just classic Mrs. Prada menswear uniform of two-piece suits and big coats, but Simons’s favorites like boiler suits and flight jackets. Even the tech nerd with his black turtleneck and his backpack was there. In other words, these are clothes which are the standard for all kinds of jobs, and not just office-bound ones. The show notes described how these uniforms—workwear archetypes in the broadest terms—were given a “sense of occasion.” Mostly that happened through a feeling of decadence: opulent textures like mohair and thick leather over slick leather, cinched waists, erotically imposing shoulders, and fabrics like taffeta-ish nylon—or a wonderfully fashion-y detail on the suit jacket, like big shoulder and funnel sleeve that seemed to cause the waists to pucker just a bit, creating a flirtatiously impromptu hourglass shape as the models walked. This gussying up of job-bound clothes, per the show notes, “[emphasizes] the value of work to society.”