PRADA COMIC STRIP

For the spring 2018 issue of Dazed, I commissioned Brigid Elva – one of the artists behind Prada SS18 – to create a comic strip fashion special featuring pieces from the collection. The strip was accompanied by my roundtable discussion with five female comic book artists whose work also appeared in the show.  

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I’ve often been told I resemble a cartoon. I have the kind of wide, open eyes that remind men of manga characters, and which, it follows, mean I’m constantly presumed to be younger than I am. Innocent, naive; the opposite of complex. But if to be cartoonish is to be a comic-book heroine, it also has the potential to be empowering: a female figure in a comic strip, especially one drawn by a woman, can be life-driven, nuanced, and utterly in charge of her own story. This is a potential not lost on Miuccia Prada, a comic-book fan, feminist and arch-heroine capable of throwing concepts of such clarity and velocity under your nose that they feel like a superhuman blast out of nowhere.

If Mrs Prada did have a special power, it might be telepathy. She has a rare talent for taking the pulse of the times, for responding to audiences’ innermost desires with a vision that sticks – a result, perhaps, of her tendency to absorb aspects of visual culture that venture on pop, and repurpose them as clothes. We’ve had 1950s hotrods for SS12, jazz-infused bananas for SS11 and now, for SS18, images of comicbook heroines as drawn by female artists. But the illustrated women who lined the walls, and stared defiantly from clothes and bags and shoes, weren’t lifted from the fantastical realms of mainstream comics. Instead, as the designer said after the show, the eight artists whose work she selected were those who adhered to “the human side, the simple side, the underestimated side of women… women who were real, more normal, maybe not beautiful, not superheroes”. In other words, “Wonder Woman, no; Angela Davis, yes.”

The coterie of cartoonists featured established names who have broken into the man-caves of Marvel/DC, alongside artists more used to the feedback of online communities and underground zine fairs. Trina Robbins, a comic-book artist-turned-herstorian, was the first woman to draw Wonder Woman; Joëlle JonesFiona Staples, and Emma Rios flirted with the mainstream only to find success with their original, indie creations; while internet-raised Stellar Leuna and Brigid Elva, the latter of whom has contributed an original comic for these pages, are firmly allied with the self-publishing scene. Perhaps most touching was how the combination of styles and experience levels brought together different generations of feminism, movements that are too often forced to oppose one another; to dig their heels in on opposite sides of what is, after all, a shared fence to climb.

It would be short-sighted to underestimate the familiarity factor: the most powerful illustrations dared you to see yourself in Stellar Leuna’s bobbed girl with devil horns, or in Emma Rios’ enigmatic cyberpunk playing a handheld video game. (As if you were ever as cool as these illustrated femmes!) These are the kinds of characters who have always empowered those inquisitive girls that encounter them, who have reified their everyday frustrations with wit and sharp edges and ink. But it was a bold activist spirit that reverberated most strongly in this room of women drawing women, women wearing women; a regal illustration by Trina Robbins of Angela Davis appeared many times over, the most explicit nod to the ‘combative militancy’ that Mrs Prada would state as her intent post-show. Here is a designer who has previously decreed she wants “to inspire women to struggle”, after all.

The collection also brought Prada’s politics down to the level of the acutely personal – to the specificity of that girl turning the page, or the woman holding her pen and brush. Creating something out of blankness, filling in the gaps. Haven’t women always drawn themselves, after all? She wears clothes, she self-invents, she endures: as the first look of the show posted on social media declared, “She lives”.

Introduction taken from ‘Girls Invented’ in the spring 2018 issue of Dazed. 

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