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