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Lifestyles

At Fendi and Prada, Moving Beyond the Shoulder Pad

Posted February 24, 2018 12:18 a.m. EST

MILAN — The shoulder pad is shaping up to be the symbol of the season.

It’s easy to understand, amid #MeToo and Time’s Up; maybe a little too easy. Women to the barricades! Battering-ram them down! Even in the European fashion week city where the discussion has been most muted, perhaps because it has been so muted, the linebacker proportion has become a thing. Let your clothes do the talking for you.

But do designers have to do that with clichés? “Think harder,” you want to shout at some.

On Thursday, finally, two of them did, wrestling with the ideas of female strength and female identity without resorting to the obvious tropes of another era.

“There’s no need for it to be gigantic,” Silvia Venturini Fendi said before the Fendi show, when the topic of shoulders came up. “It just needs to demonstrate control.” She would know: As the only member of the third generation of her family in the business, she has a lot resting on hers.

So designer Karl Lagerfeld eschewed false underpinnings in favor of the tidy and exactingly square; trading size for structure. Who doesn’t want some of that in her life?

Little white-collared capelets embroidered like antique handkerchiefs — genteel versions of the superhero standard that also appeared, longer and with a beaded art deco argyle for evening — were the focus of swirling midcalf dresses and coats. Shaggy shearling gave them a feral air; a spread knit over a glazed glen-plaid puffer wrap with matching skirt added a utilitarian warmth. The point was a framework that could support anything — responsibilities, strategic planning, tote bags — that might get tossed on top.

As for what went underneath: suiting in tailoring tweeds and Prince of Wales checks; pencil skirts with a peplum of pleats and a belted waist; dresses etched with the delicate patterns of old linen. (Lagerfeld claimed backstage that he has one of the largest collections of vintage linen in the world; he has said that he is “mad” for it, especially the moment at the end of the day when he slips into clean, crisp white sheets). It was highly functional and no-fuss, but had a don’t-mess-with-me serenity that, despite the vaguely 1940s Diana Prince silhouettes, looked new.

If ever a designer were made for the #MeToo moment, however, it would seemingly be Miuccia Prada, a women who has spent her career exploring the shifting, often uncomfortable, balance between femininity and force. Or, as she put it: “The whole point of my job is trying to understand how women can be powerful but also feminine, and be believed and stay respected when everyone assumes those things mean you don’t care about clothes.”

That was after her show, held in the new extension of the Prada Foundation. She intended to baptize the addition with fashion and “take revenge on the art world,” a sector that often looks down on fashion — even though fashion itself has, as she pointed out, given a lot of money to art (the Pradas being example No. 1).

Floor-to-ceiling windows framed an industrial wasteland spotted by neon Prada signs — a cartoon ape, hanging by one arm; a bunch of bananas; a stegosaurus — and the floor had been polished to a dark mirror, creating a vertiginous disorientation.

It mimicked the imbalance Prada tried to wrestle with her collection, torn between the clichés of girlhood and the demands for protection and armor — for, she said, “any woman to be able to walk on the street late at night and be super sexy without being afraid.” Or feeling as if she were going to fall through the floor.

Cocooning workwear pieces with the volume turned up came in highlighter shades or camo colors, and were layered over and under tulle that was sometimes sheer, sometimes speckled with jewels and daisies. There were rubber boots with drawstring nylon tops and massive pleather coats with faux-fur cuffs and thick bustiers and iridescent fringing and watercolor florals — much of it at the same time. There were a lot of bows. Things were pulled off-center.

It was hard to digest (harder, in any case, than Prada’s favorite canapé: anchovy and lemon on buttered bread) and harder to look away. Shrug, if you dare.