Miuccia Prada pleases herself when it comes to design and often creates trends rather than following them prestigious Galleria Vittorio Emanuele 11 shopping arcade. Something called Typologies then dominates the hall, with six freestanding dioramas dedicated to Mrs’ particular obsessions or fascinations, taxonomies of Prada product, each with concept names: Femasculinity (crossover of the sexes), Animality (inspiration from the natural world), Continentalism (homage to European history), Excessivity (testing the limits of extravagance), Figuration (a passion for prints) and Modernism (minimal composition). The names are meant to be playful, a lexical prêt-a-portmanteau.
Against a video display at booth’s end, a cabinet contains textures and surfaces that best reflect and define Prada. Spring/summer 2007’s bottle caps lend edge to a dress; SS10’S crystal chain mail and SS04’S tie-dye. The hits keeps coming. We see SS07 turbans with SS14 tube socks, SSO8 nymph and fairy illustrations by artist James Jean, the guipure lace of autumn/winter 2008, which could just as easily be AW14/15, the sequins and snakeskin of AW11, the postcard prints from SS10.
We enter a screening room labelled Observation that shows Prada’s ambitious film and video projects with such eminences as Ridley Scott, Roman Polanski, James Lima, Wes Anderson and Chinese artist Yang Fudong. In a display called Evolution, we find architectural models by frequent and long-time architectural collaborators Rem Koolhaas/oma and Herzog & de Meuron. Koolhaas has designed a new headquarters and exhibition space for the Prada Foundation in a 1910 distillery in Largo Isarco, south of Milan, due to open this year. That will be its own Pradaverse of urban regeneration, comprising disciplines ranging from art, cinema and design to architecture and philosophy, to music and performing arts.
It’s all a reminder of the range and passion of Mrs Prada’s interests and obsessions. The Prada Foundation regularly exhibits at design fairs in Venice and Milan, and the Prada HQ in Milan houses a Damien Hirst pickled sheep in the lobby. (Mrs is a personal friend of US artist Cindy Sherman, was a trained and performing mime for five years at Milan’s Piccolo Teatro in the 1970s, and, surprisingly for one so artful, doesn’t draw).
“We’re trying to understand how Mrs Prada speaks, through materials, design, special projects, fashion and film. I think the past and present exist together in a very dynamic relationship,” says Rock. “Her work is identified more with an attitude—a Prada kind of thing— than with a particular product. I would say her work is much more identified with attitude.”
Style impresario, publisher, blogger extraordinaire and now actress Tavi Gevinson agrees: “Prada’s clothes exist in a vacuum that lives outside of cultural references. If personal style is curiosity about oneself, then Prada is an incentive to greater understanding.”
Before there was disruptive technology, there was disruptive fashion and its name was Prada. The brand was fashion’s antidote from the mid 1980s when Miuccia’s moment came in the unlikely form of a rucksack made of military-grade black nylon. She took the utilitarian bag and used industrial processes to create a luxurious and highly desirable fashion item. It was simple, understated and functional. And a global smash hit.
Overnight, the brand acquired a cool and cult the envy of the fashion business. Prada became counterculture, counter-couture,