AS THE VISIONARY DESIGNER REIMAGES HER ‘UGLY CHIC’ EMPIRE WITH A NEW CO CREATIVE DIRECTOR, WE DECODE MIUCCIA PRADA’S SUBVERSIVE LANGUAGE OF LUXURY
BY RHIANNA JONES
In 2012, the Met exhibition Impossible Conversations explored the affinities of iconic Italian designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada, two style luminaries from different eras, each lauded for her unconventional approach to beauty, taste, and glamour. The exhibition featured a series of simulated conversations between the two designers, in which Prada was referenced as saying, “It’s important to produce fashions that are new, original, surprising, but you should never lose sight of your personal considerations. Shapes, colors, lengths of skirts should always be a vehicle, an instrument for your personal narratives, your personal obsessions.” To that effect, her collections could be considered a series of impossible conversations of her inspiration and the design, of the garment and the wearer, and ultimately of the wearer and the world. For Prada, fashion is more than a language of self-expression; it’s a medium to subvert her impressions of society and reimagine social norms.
After more than 40 years at the helm, the style icon has established herself as one of the industry’s most venerated designers, and much like her designs, her journey was rather unconventional. Raised in a bourgeois Milanese family, she rebelled early on; she was both a communist and women’s rights advocate, studied pantomime, and held a doctorate in political science. Her political path was derailed when she inherited the family’s luxury leather goods label in 1978, founded by her grandfather Mario Prada in 1913 (the original Prada boutique still stands in Milan’s historic Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II shopping arcade). In 1988, the brand’s first clothing collection launched in Milan, followed by the first menswear line in 1993. That same year, the budding designer launched her own line, Miu Miu (titled after her childhood nickname), as a part of the Prada group, conceived to express a younger, more rebellious spirit. With every collection, she continued to disrupt the status quo, abstracting the world’s expectations of luxury.
As the self-proclaimed purveyor of “ugly chic,” Prada’s designs are notoriously dichotomous; they are nostalgic yet modern, militant yet romantic, and luxurious yet ordinary. A body skimming evening dress, for instance, in an intentionally itchy wool; her black nylon bags, now a cult favorite; a patent heel adorned with rocket lights and burning flames. Her designs are rich in detail, concept, and wit, and they blur the line between masculine and feminine archetypes. She distills the stoic silhouettes of menswear through a feminine lens and injects softness into traditionally masculine styles. She’ll cut a women’s leather dress like gladiator armor but bedazzle it with sequins. She’ll elevate utilitarian materials like Velcro and seatbelt buckles into glamorous runway attire.
As the Met exhibition relayed, “If I have done anything, it’s to make ugly appealing. Most of my work is concerned with destroying and deconstructing conventional ideas of beauty, of the generic appeal of the beautiful glamorous bourgeois woman. Tearing apart the beauty clichés fashion creates, subverting our perceptions of taste and luxury.”
Prada’s primary concern is not appeasing fashion’s order. She doesn’t follow trends or traditions, and in turn, she has created a billion dollar aesthetic on originality in a sea of homogeny. Perhaps that’s exactly what makes her vision so imperishable; in an ever shifting industry, she continues to evolve, much like a language, reimagining new conversations and consumer cultures alike. In February, she rocked the world of fashion once again with the stunning announcement that legendary Belgian designer Raf Simons would be knighted as the house’s co creative director, launching a new era for the label. But if Prada has taught us anything, it’s that we can count on her audacious and fearless persona to continue to inspire, to embolden, and to ignite the unexpected.