IN THE BAG

PRADA HAS IN­VITED FOUR TOP EURO­PEAN DE­SIGN HOUSES TO REIN­VENT ITS HUM­BLE CLAS­SIC: THE BLACK NY­LON BACK­PACK.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING W - STORY DAVID MEAGHER

Thirty-three years ago, Prada was a mod­est ac­ces­sories busi­ness when it launched a sim­ple prod­uct that would change the course of the com­pany’s his­tory: a line of black ny­lon back­packs with leather trim and an un­der­stated Prada logo. It was a prod­uct line dreamt up by Mi­uc­cia Prada in 1985 on lit­tle more than a hunch. “I wanted to do some­thing that was nearly im­pos­si­ble: make ny­lon lux­u­ri­ous,” she has said. It worked. The bags were an in­stant hit with cus­tomers and ver­sions of the back­pack de­sign are still avail­able in Prada stores to­day along with a large range of other black ny­lon ac­ces­sories. Like Louis Vuit­ton’s mono­gram can­vas, or Chanel’s quilted leather, the hum­ble black ny­lon fab­ric used by Prada is a cor­ner­stone of the brand and the one prod­uct line that is im­me­di­ately recog­nis­able as Prada.

This year, for the brand’s au­tumn-win­ter menswear col­lec­tion, un­veiled in Mi­lan in Jan­uary, Prada in­vited four cel­e­brated cre­ative tal­ents from out­side the world of fash­ion to put their own spin on the black ny­lon fab­ric with the cre­ation of a unique item. The ob­jec­tive for the “Prada In­vites” project, the com­pany says, was to “in­ves­ti­gate the po­etic, prac­ti­cal, tech­ni­cal and aes­thetic as­pect of ny­lon”. The in­vi­tees – Ro­nan and Er­wan Bouroul­lec, Kon­stantin Gr­cic, Her­zog & de Meu­ron, and Rem Kool­haas – were given the sim­ple brief of cre­at­ing an item us­ing the sig­na­ture fab­ric.

The Paris-based Bouroul­lec brothers, who have de­signed works rang­ing in scale from jewellery to ar­chi­tec­ture for brands in­clud­ing Alessi, Cap­pellini, Sam­sung and Hay, took the ar­chi­tects, painters and stu­dents they see who walk around cities with large rec­tan­gu­lar fo­lios as their start­ing point. Ro­nan Bouroul­lec was in­spired, he says, by “the move­ment of that rec­tan­gle, its clear-cut, fixed ge­om­e­try con­trast­ing with the mov­ing bod­ies. This project takes that ge­om­e­try and in­stils it in a shoul­der bag, with its in­side gus­set, low fas­ten­ing, elas­tic bands and eye­let, and use of a sin­gle colour, which pro­duces a sub­tle play­ful­ness.”

Gr­cic, one of the world’s most in-de­mand de­sign­ers, has cre­ated fur­ni­ture, prod­ucts and light­ing for brands in­clud­ing Vi­tra, Cassina, Flos, Muji and Ne­spresso. Since es­tab­lish­ing his own de­sign prac­tice in Mu­nich in 1991 he has won count­less awards in­clud­ing the pres­ti­gious Com­passo d’Oro for his May­day lamp for Flos. For Prada his de­sign in­spi­ra­tion was a fish­ing vest, specif­i­cally the fa­mous fish­ing vest worn by the artist Joseph Beuys. Ac­cord­ing to Gr­cic his black ny­lon Prada fish­ing vest rep­re­sents the idea of a bag, which is what the fab­ric was tra­di­tion­ally used for, as a gar­ment that can be worn. In this case, the vest is worn like an apron around the body.

Her­zog & de Meu­ron have col­lab­o­rated with Prada be­fore, most no­tably in 2003 on the de­sign of what is ar­guably the brand’s most fa­mous store: Prada Aoyama in Tokyo. The Basel-based ar­chi­tects have de­signed some of the most no­table pub­lic build­ings of the last 20 years in­clud­ing the Na­tional Sta­dium for the 2008 Olympic Games in Bei­jing, the Tate Mod­ern in Lon­don in 2000 (as well as the ex­ten­sion to the mu­seum in 2016) and the Elbphil­har­monie in Ham­burg, which opened last year. The prac­tice was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2001 and the Royal In­sti­tute of Bri­tish Ar­chi­tects Royal Gold Medal in 2007. Of the four in­vi­tees for this project with Prada they were the only ones who didn’t de­sign an ac­ces­sory. In­stead they took lan­guage as their theme and cre­ated a trio of de­signs: a T-shirt, shirt and jacket each printed with text as a pat­tern. “Text is per­ceived as de­sign, pat­tern, or dec­o­ra­tion, com­pa­ra­ble to the once po­tent sym­bols and signs, now tat­tooed on to hu­man bod­ies with­out num­ber,” ex­plain the ar­chi­tects. “The lan­guage that we en­counter here is like an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal find, as fas­ci­nat­ing to us as an­cient scrolls or coins be­cause we sense that its time is run­ning out.”

Dutch ar­chi­tect Kool­haas has also col­lab­o­rated with Prada in the past – on the de­sign of stores in New York, Los An­ge­les and San Fran­cisco, on the de­sign of its col­lec­tion shows and, most re­cently, on Fon­dazione Prada, the com­pany’s con­tem­po­rary arts mu­seum in Mi­lan, in 2015. Kool­haas founded his firm OMA in 1975 with Elia and Zoe Zenghe­lis and Made­lon Vriesendorp and the prac­tice has de­signed ma­jor works around the world, in­clud­ing the M Pavil­ion in Mel­bourne last year. For Prada he was the only de­signer who rein­vented the orig­i­nal black ny­lon prod­uct and cre­ated a back­pack – or rather, a front-pack. Kool­haas says the back­pack is an ex­tremely use­ful ac­ces­sory un­til you have to get some­thing out of it, which means you need to take it off. For Kool­haas, “the frontal po­si­tion gives a more in­ti­mate sense of own­er­ship – a bet­ter con­trol of move­ment, avoid­ing the chain of obliv­i­ous col­li­sions that the back­pack in­ad­ver­tently gen­er­ates.” The Prada In­vites col­lec­tion will be avail­able in stores from next month.

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