MILAN — Founded here in 1913 as a luggage purveyor to the local carriage trade, Fratelli Prada probably would not have become a synonym for Italian fashion had the male scion, uninterested in the business, not passed it on to his daughter, Luisa, who in turn eventually handed the baton to a daughter of her own, a girl named Miuccia.
By 1978 Miuccia Prada was running the family company and barely six years later had altered the course of both her family’s fortunes and the history of fashion by introducing a line of bags — a backpack was the key item — in an industrial nylon previously used as lining material.
Turning things inside out is a characteristic element of Ms. Prada’s disposition. As if in allusion to that fact, her show this week was held in a warehouse adjoining the Prada Foundation, on the southern outskirts of the city. The warehouse may or may not be the actual depot for designer’s world-class collection of contemporary art. And while is certainly conceivable that the stacks of crates stenciled with “This Side Up” arrows and the Prada name rendered backward contained untold millions worth of contemporary art, they might just as easily have been empty.
Keeping people guessing is one of Ms. Prada’s fallback strategies. Particularly in a conservative city and in an industry that prizes continuity over innovation, it is useful to have a voice as contrarian as hers. While many designers in Milan are busy chasing the romanticized Neo-Edwardian hothouse vision that has made Alessandro Michele’s Gucci such a staggering success, Ms. Prada chose instead to revisit her own chastely industrial back pages with a show that recast her 1980s pocone nylon bags as clothes: vests, jackets, long coats, trousers, shorts, all in voluminous upholstery proportions.
Certain of the items were created in collaboration with architects or designers like Herzog & de Meuron; her longtime collaborator Rem Koolhaas; Konstantin Grcic, and the French brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. (Mostly they produced bags — a “frontpack” from Mr. Koolhaas — that suggested the wisdom of holding on to one’s day job.) These eventually gave way to logo sports and work wear reminiscent of the things that the brand produced during the period when Ms. Prada’s husband, Patrizio Bertelli, sponsored a boat, the Luna Rossa, that came close to winning the America’s Cup.
It was a sedate show, a decidedly commercial one. And yet even within framework of her own design conventions (afterward Ms. Prada said, as though reading from a Monty Python script, that she “could not get enough” of black nylon), the designer had some wild cards to play. These took the form of fabulously contrasting block prints reminiscent of both Ed Roth, the Southern California hot-rod Picasso known as “Big Daddy,” and John Baldessari, the artist whose intellectual deadpan seems most closely aligned with Ms. Prada’s own.