Prada, Miuccia

Prada, Miuccia
▪ 2003

      Though retail analysts predicted a plunge in the sale of luxury goods following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., Italian designer Miuccia Prada confounded the fashion industry by forging ahead in 2002 with a three-year expansion plan that had begun with the 2001 opening of her company's new flagship megashop, in a retail zone that had been hit the hardest—downtown Manhattan. Prada's sweeping retail space was designed by the Rotterdam, Neth.-based Office for Metropolitan Architecture, headed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. Prada's $40-million self-described “epicentre” was a futuristic temple to the brand. Its floors were made of zebrawood; a circular glass elevator doubled as a space to display Prada merchandise; and glass fitting rooms became private (opaque) or public (translucent) with the flip of a switch. Meanwhile, inside the dressing room a computer could educate the customer with facts about Prada's merchandise—which included a mix of new clothes for the season, items from past collections, and vintage Prada. The merchandise was housed in the basement of the shop, which was designed to replicate the atmosphere of a stockroom. As a result, Prada's megashop could be utilized in the evening for artistic endeavours—showcasing performance art, screening independent films, and staging theatrical productions. Though Prada insisted that sales were not the focal point of her space, her Manhattan shop took in $500,000 on its first day of business.

      Prada was born in 1949 in Milan. She obtained a doctorate in political science from the Università degli Studi, Milan, flirted briefly with communism, and studied mime for five years at Milan's Teatro Piccolo before in 1978 reluctantly taking the helm of Fratelli Prada with her husband, Patrizio Bertelli. The company had been founded in 1913 by her grandfather, Mario Prada. It had sold expensive luggage to European aristocrats but had lost its clientele.

      As the creative force behind the revival of the company, Prada produced unique styles in clothing, footwear, and accessories. For one of her first designs, she fashioned a handbag out of an unconventional fabric combination—she blended expensive leather with Pocono, an industrial nylon fabric that was used to make military tents. In 1989 she produced a line of ready-to-wear, fashioning skirts and jackets using Pocono. Prada's concept of casual luxury caught on, and in the early 1990s the Prada brand developed a cult fashion following. Its products, emblazoned with the Prada-embossed silver triangle, were instantly recognizable. By 2001 Prada's sales had swelled to $1.5 billion.

      The success of the company was a collaborative effort, however. Prada drew on the talents of several technical designers as well as those of Bertelli. She and her team also designed the spin-off lines Miu Miu, Granello, and Prada Sport. In 1999 Prada acquired Jil Sander, Helmut Lang, a stake in British shoe manufacturer Church & Co., Azzedine Alaia, and part of Fendi (the latter was sold to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in 2001). Though the company continued to make plans for expansion, the economic downturn forced Prada to postpone its planned initial public offering.

Bronwyn Cosgrave

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Universalium. 2010.

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