LOOKING THROUGH MRS. PRADA’S EYES By Cathy Horyn. Illustrations by Charis Tsevis.
Milan, late May: The design home of Miuccia Prada never looks more like a factory in an Italian neorealist film than it does in the off-season between shows. Sunshine fills the courtyard of the sprawling complex. In a corner an industrial-size chute loops in a spiral from a window to the ground. It’s actually a slide by the artist Carsten Höller. A zippy escape route? That might qualify as a subversive joke, since normally the fashion world is beating to get in to see Miuccia in the flesh.
We meet upstairs in a conference room next to her office; a light lunch, which will include wine (she partakes), has been set out. She immediately offers condolences for the recent death of my partner, and we spend several minutes talking about him. This is not strange, and yet it is. Although I have known Miuccia for 20 years – I’ve convinced myself that I can remember my very first Prada show (pale crepe de chine dresses, a ’40s Berlin essence) – we are not close. I’ve visited her home, a loft-like apartment in the same building where she grew up, only once – to write an article about her and her husband, Patrizio Bertelli’s, art interests. I see her backstage at her shows, like everybody else.
To the extent that I know Miuccia, it is through her clothes, though, clearly, that is saying a lot. As Michael Rock, a graphic designer who is a frequent collaborator, says, “Miuccia has excelled at making her own questions the subject of her work.” For Autumn, there is a distinct antifancy attitude in plain silk dresses and the pairing of rough shearling coats with wispy ’20s-style chemises. And because she was born in 1949, the culture of Europe in the ’60s and ’70s is never far from her mind. But while she may watch all of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films to get inspired, the process for Miuccia is never that direct.
At one point she tells me, in earnest, “Maybe I should change my life. There are people who are happy with little. And us, we are never excited with anything, or never enough. We’re very ambitious. That complicates your life, but it’s also the fuel of it. People with a simple life can be happy, too.” She laughs a bit ironically. “Rich people need to be entertained more and more. And then I think, ‘Let’s not entertain anymore. Let’s be simple.’”
Does she mean it? Maybe, maybe not, but such soulsearching speaks to her particular gift. Very few designers
An illustration of Prada’s runway shows throughout the years