Trust Miuccia Prada to be the barometer of seasonal trends: this time, for Spring-Summer 12, she chose a highly symbolical set of iconographies, namely Fifties cars and the connotations that go with them.
BOOM, VROOM. Editorials blossom with hyper-aestheticized bright colours, chromed textures and retro car prints. Reinvented bomber jackets do not only appear at Prada but also at Balenciaga – with Nicolas Ghesquière even introducing security belts within the designs, a very Chalayan-Margiela twist. Céline, Haider Ackermann, Yves Saint Laurent, Proenza Schouler, ACNE and Christopher Kane also seemed inspired by cars’ curves and embellishments at times.
Ed Ruscha, Burning Gas Station, 1966
This chromed, rodeo trend is most obvious in Prada’s accessories: shoes with car lights, eyeglasses with car profiles, bags shining in bright reds and greens. Leather and vinyl is the closest material to a car aesthetic. Flames as decorations and shapes emphasize the focus on movement and the rod vibe. Prada women have wings on their feet, a twenty-first century version of Mercury’s sandals matching their shiny, extravagant, almost comics-like cars. So, is it a proper return to the Fifties and its diners, gas stations and rodeos or is it rather a jump in the future? What have floral prints and pastel laces to do with the high-speed trips of a James Dean or a Marlon Brando?
Maybe the take is – quite common for Miuccia – a feminist one: women are not objects anymore; yes, they are impeccably styled in pop colours and mid-century hairstyles, but they are driving these vehicles. And yet the theme is not only women-and-cars, it is also women-as-cars. The structures and colour palettes of their garments resemble Chryslers, Jaguars and Chevrolets, creating a disturbing reification that makes the “sweet” feeling of the collection problematic.
Jacques Monory, Fuite n°2, 1980
We are far away from early century Futurist ideals, the love for speed (remember the ‘priests’ of the movement prefering a “roaring automobile” to the Victory of Samothrace?) being replaced by the need of a carapace, may it be a fancy car or an automobile-shaped outfit.
Cars, especially after a crash, have often been described as the ultimate communion of iron, glass and flesh – the automobile and its driver becoming one united membrane, displaced from everything else. And indeed, what Paul Valéry once called the “conquest of ubiquity” has its downfalls. Every car driver knows that he or she enters the realm of non-places when using the engine. Artists such as Ed Ruscha, Jacques Monory or Julian Opie have transmitted this impression with their fixed, standard and endlessly repeatable canvases. Gas stations and highways are non-places by excellence, spaces of transit that both embrace and deny the fluidity of movement.
Julian Opie, Roadscape, 2001
They are thresholds to nowhere, anonymous and indistinguishable structures delineating non-urban environments. As unreal as it seems, however, the threshold might be the only real home of a multi-faceted identity. Airports and gas stations are our new runways: Prada’s choice is not only aesthetical, it is provocative, as it breaks the rule in creating an identity where people are usually supposed to fade in a general anonymity. Users of non-places are interchangeable, yet if you dress them in Prada a fascinating contradiction arises: with your clothes and your presence, you make the non-place into a place.
Of course the location of the glossy advertising images is not necessarily the one where these clothes will be performed; journalists and celebrities will still show them around at fashion weeks or on the red carpet. Yet the most interesting feature of this collection is its displaced context. Smelling of gasoline, these abandoned places where these women seem to fight with their looks – see the collection’s video! – are not only a nostalgic trip in the past, they also pursue the eternal idea of life as a ride.
Gavin Turk, Negative Transit Disaster on Blue, 2011
This ties in quite nicely with a current recuperation of ‘car stories’: think On the Road and The Great Gatsby, which will soon arrive on our silver screens. Road-trips and rides, however, cannot be separated from the ever-impending possibility of an accident.
Car crashes especially have always been a favourite theme in literature, cinema, art and philosophy: the Futurists, Kafka, Musil and Brecht in the 10s (with the latter using a car crash as the example of detached theatre), Fitzgerald (the Great Gatsby), Doblin (Berlin Alexanderplatz), Musil (Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften) in the 20s, Jünger, Ehrenburg (Das Leben der Autos), Spengler (Der Mensch und die Technik), Bontempelli (’522′ Racconto di una giornata) in the 30s, Dürrenmatt (Die Panne) or Andersch (Fahrerflucht) in the 50s, Cortazar (La Autopista del Sur) or Frisch (Skizze eines Unglücks) in the 60s, Ballard (Crash, perhaps the most famous novel on the topic), or John Hawkes (Travesty) in the 70s, and so on. Film-wise, classics that come to mind are Nicholas Ray’s Rebel without a cause (1955), Jean-Luc Godard’s Week-end (1967), Joseph Losey’s Accident (1967), Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969), or Cronenberg’s Crash (1996).
Salvador Dali, Car Clothing (Clothed Automobile), 1941
This bibliography, paired with the artistic takes on the subject (one remembers Warhol’s car crashes or César’s compressions or exhibitions like Crash. Pause. Rewind. http://www.westernbridge.org/exhibitscrash.htm or Ce qui Arrive), casts an uncanny shadow on this seemingly innocuous trend: debris are sweetness’ companions, and accidents will always counteract the speed of supermodernity. Chrome your wardrobe and accelerate your life, but do not forget the aesthetic of danger that comes with the excitement of speed.
The runway images of Prada, Celine, Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Chalayan, Haider Ackermann, ACNE, Christopher Kane, Proenza Schouler, Jil Sander are from style.com; moodboards by the author.