Having become one of the world’s leading fashion designers out of circumstance rather than choice, Miuccia Prada is considered more eccentric and unconventional than many of her contemporaries. She enjoys creating a paradox in her work by combining opposites, whether that refers to stylistic oppositions or the placement of the old with the new, or careful and artful construction with spontaneous pastiche.
A highly educated woman with a doctorate in political science, Miuccia Prada inherited her grandfather’s leather goods company in the mid 1970s. The Prada Company had been founded in 1913 by Mario Prada and was the luggage maker of choice to the Milanese aristocracy.
Miuccia created the first nylon bag in 1978, and the classic simple, black nylon knapsacks with the silver-metal Prada label were presented in 1984. These became a cult item among fashion followers, and a style icon of the 1990s. The move inadvertently launched the craze for fashion labels to produce signature bags of their own.
Perhaps somewhat surprised by her initial success, Prada presented her first ready-to-wear collection in 1988. Considering her active commitment to political discussion and debate, it is not surprising that her design work was considered unconventional: it often embraced retro styling with offbeat color and pattern combinations and made use of both high-tech and old-fashioned materials.
Prada has, in various collections, combined stilettos with thick wool socks, fur helmets with cocktail dresses and tiaras with work clothes. She has described her designs variously as ‘uniforms for the slightly disenfranchised’ (the name given to her first collection) and as bad taste, ‘I don’t make elegant clothes anymore, but the opposite. I make ugly clothes from ugly material.’
Techno styles make use of industrial materials and can express an industrial aesthetic, which in itself reflects cultural values. Prada’s comment suggests that she is presenting buyers with a choice – a freedom to choose their own aesthetic. Her dresses decorated with celluloid strips defy convention, even her own conventions, thereby introducing an element of self-reflexivity into her design practice.
Prada’s spirited and experimental fashions have a wide appeal in the twenty-first century, as they serve a purpose far greater than just adornment. Often drawing on the military uniform, like both Gucci and Dolce and Gabbana she exploits the erotic appeal of sartorial militarism.
An inadvertent trend setter, like Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, Prada commissioned Pritzker Prize awarded architects Rem Koolhaas to design the New York and Los Angeles flagship stores – called Prada Epicenter – which were opened in 2001 and 2004 respectively, and Herzog and de Meuron to design another, in Tokyo, in 2003.