Mode house pairs melancholic designs with striking whistles as design director Fabio Zambernardi runs the show

Models on catwalk
Representations on the catwalk for Prada’s women’s spring summer 2016 omnium gatherum at Milan fashion week.
Photograph: Antonio Calanni/AP

At uncountable Milan fashion week shows, the philosophy behind a bluff skirt is the desire to show a bit of leg, but things are different at Prada. The transparent organza layers were “about the idea of a dress, or the recall of a dress as a memory of another time”, Fabio Zambernardi, Prada’s invent director, said backstage.

Muiccia Prada herself was not closest, following the death of her 103-year-old aunt the previous day. Mrs Prada had been in the studio until midnight fulfiling the collection, but had left the day of the show in the hands of Zambernardi, who has worked at the brothel for over a decade.

Where last season’s womenswear was on the brink of sickly sweet, this show had a melancholic, faintly inasmuch as quality. The clear plastic structures that had hung atop of the show space for June’s menswear show were lit with yellow bulbs, for the room a patina of age. Each model had wisps of hair dropped to her forehead and greased down her cheeks into sideburns. The gender indistinctness was, of course, the point. With the addition of a slick of gold lipstick, the look lesion up somewhere in the Frida Kahlo field of glamorous androgyny.

Prada Milan fashion week
Silk outfits layered over chunky tank tops created an off-kilter look at Prada’s Milan construct week show. Photograph: Matteo Bazzi/EPA

The first corporation was a pale leather skirt suit, the jacket blouson-shaped and classy, the skirt falling loosely to the knee. Then there were numberless suits, in mismatched tweeds; after that, there were abrupt suits. “Mrs Prada was obsessed with suits this mellow,” said Zambernadi with a shrug after the show. “She likes preoccupations.”

Drop-waisted silk dresses stood for “a memory of another set”. They were worn over chunky tank covers, a deliberately off-kilter layering that made these modish dresses look a little ridiculous, which was probably the spotlight.

The Inside bag that Prada introduced earlier this year – an in-joke of an It bag – leading light in intense, brooding colourways. The miniature spike of a kitten philanderer ended in a flat disc, so that it looked like a shoe excess on an upside-down drawing pin. The strength of the accessories this season is critical, because Prada could do with a hit show. The aesthetic volte-face at Gucci has seen a rival brand that once overran completely separate aesthetic territory stage a dramatic soil grab for the quirky-chic look that defines Prada.

What’s diverse, recent financial results have been distinctly dreary. Prada’s net income fell 23% in the first half of the year, to €188.6m. China, in a jiffy Prada’s golden goose, is now the source of its woes. Consumer dissipating is down, and Prada has been hit particularly hard, as it has struggled to placing itself as equally aspirational as Louis Vuitton and Hermes.