Prada's Past, Present & Future
Miuccia Prada is regarded as one of the most influential fashion designers in modern history. With a penchant for setting trends and bucking the ideas of her fellow designers, the now 69-year-old has transformed a small family business into one of the world’s most renowned fashion houses.
Never shying away from a challenge, Prada has blended the old and the new, the ugly and the sublime, the vulgar and the simple, to show off a smorgasbord of ideas. No two collections look the same but it’s obvious that each well thought-out garment (Prada hates the term “intellectual”) has come from one great mind.
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For those who aren’t well-versed in fashion, Prada’s name is most likely synonymous with the 2006 hit movie The Devil Wears Prada, but for those who are, you’re probably familiar with Instagram call-out sensation Diet Prada. When it comes to culture, Prada is the go-to name for high-brow inspiration.
Prada the label, however, wasn’t started by Prada the woman. Founded in 1913, it was her grandfather, Mario Prada, and his brother Martino, who started the luxury goods company. Rather than getting into the business of selling clothes, the siblings focused on luggage, handbags and other accessories, managing to attract a rather aristocratic clientele who weren’t interested in seasonal trends.
Considering Prada’s current feminist stance, it’s ironic that its co-founder Mario was averse to women joining the family business, but he was. His daughter Luisa, who eventually ran the show for almost two decades, was only granted a role due to his son showing a lack of interest. It was her daughter, Miuccia, who revolutionized things when she became the boss in 1978.
With the help of the man who would later become her husband, Patrizio Bertelli, Prada realized that the brand needed something to turn it into a household name—something like a bag. She could have followed the likes of Louis Vuitton by brandishing a leather design with multiple gaudy logos, but instead, Prada went in a completely unheard of direction: choosing a fabric and feel that screamed function rather than fashion.
Pocone—a military-grade nylon that was used by Prada’s grandfather to cover trunks— was the key to Miuccia Prada’s success. It was the last thing that should have worked for a designer handbag, but work it did. Starting with a series of waterproof backpacks, Prada eventually moved onto totes, all including a small black triangle bearing the Prada logo.
At first, consumers were put off by the nylon accessory’s exceedingly high prices. “You know, those bags were more expensive than the leather ones because learning how to work with the nylon took three or four years. We had to develop the technique,” the designer told The Independent in a 2004 interview. Within months, the pocone backpacks were a roaring success.
While the 90s were prime time for logomania, Prada’s knack for promoting utility and function appealed to those who didn’t want to brandish their wealth for all to see. This was especially true when it came to the ready-to-wear market which Prada dived straight into in 1988. Labeling her first collection—which sent out a range of workwear designs in black, red and pink—as “uniforms for the slightly disenfranchised,” Prada’s political leanings were demonstrated for the very first time.
You see, despite Prada’s success, she never intended to get into fashion. Politics was her initial raison d'être. In the 70s, she was awarded a PhD in political science and later spent five years training to be a mime artist.
You know, I had to have a lot of courage to do fashion, she once said, "because in theory it was the least feminist work possible.”
Injecting a fighting sense into her clothes was a natural move. It’s why ‘ugly’ librarian skirts have appeared alongside even uglier retro prints and luxurious fabrics have clashed with army palettes. Why orthopedic sandals can sit in the same archive as flame-heeled stilettos. And why lipstick prints, cartoon bananas and white corsets can work as a form of contemporary armour for women.
This protection apparel has been adopted by a number of famous women over the years. Prada’s first foray into red carpet dressing came courtesy of Uma Thurman’s appearance at the 1995 Oscars. Wearing a lavender-hued gown, Thurman paved the way for other actresses like Nicole Kidman, Lupita Nyong’o and Carey Mulligan; individuals who, like Prada, believed fashion wasn’t superficial but instead a vital part of a woman’s life.
In recent years, Prada’s more garish designs have been presented in front of backdrops designed by political muralists and female comic book artists. The definition of street style fodder, each painted dress and furry coat is snapped by tens of photographers outside shows, sending the message that beautiful clothing can shed light on the various plights of people around the world.
While Prada aims “always to avoid nostalgia”, the nylon that cemented her success recently found its way onto the catwalk for the very first time (and is the star of a new video project). In January, her fall 2018 menswear and pre-fall 2018 womenswear collection combined pocone bags and ready-to-wear with new renditions of the prints that will forever be remembered as Prada’s legacy.
It seemed to say that in order to move forward, one must look back. The future of Prada is never certain, but it’s guaranteed to be hideously alluring.