Last month, Alexander Fury, The Independent’s fashion critic, posed a weighty question: “Is Miuccia Prada the most powerful and influential designer in fashion?” It stemmed from a conversation with the designer in her Milan office almost as straightforward as the question itself. “For me, all my shows are super sexy!” Prada says at one point. “For me, a beautiful woman with a bias dress with diamanté is the least sexy woman alive. I hope, also, to some men.”
The full interview’s in the latest issue of Document Journal, which is posting online today and excerpted exclusively here on the Cut. Guest edited by Prada’s lead stylist, Olivier Rizzo, it’s somewhat of a Prada-themed issue: Rizzo also went through the Prada archives for an editorial shot by Willy Vanderperre, which you can also see below.
But the first order of business is how Prada originally got started in fashion. Though she loved clothes growing up, fashion was “the worst place for a feminist in the ’60s,” Prada said. So she started off on a different path: first studying mime, then getting a PhD in political science, and eventually joining the Italian Communist Party:
But [communism] was very common back then. Every young kid who was vaguely clever was leftist, so it’s not that I was so special. For sure, I decided to be part of a group. Probably, I liked [fashion] so much that it prevailed on my negative feelings about doing it as a job. Dressing myself, I always loved and still love and I think there’s nothing wrong with that. I always wanted to be the first to have everything, to look different from the others. It started at a very personal point. So that I don’t dislike, I don’t reject. … I don’t disown clothing. I always accepted my love for clothes, but I didn’t want to enter into the fashion business. But I did it, I think, because I probably liked it. And the liking of doing it was more than the theoretical dislike.
Still, her first collection for Prada was “a scandal”: “It was not for the classic ones — there was something disturbing. And for the super trendy avant-gardists, it was too classic. I always like to move in that space, never please anybody. There is always something disturbing, which is probably what I am, and I like.” As Fury points out, her work is now almost a fight against beauty, which she thinks of as “bourgeois”:
Completely. It’s against any cliché, for so many reasons. That, I never thought about. But I can run through the list. First of all it’s because there is the political side, which is rejecting that idea, because simply, it is wrong, it’s not dignified for women, so you have to be a doll to be beautiful, always the same. That’s why I hate bias cut, everything that people think make women beautiful. I’m against that, in principle, from a personal and human point of view. The other reason I am against it is because it is banal. I want to be more clever, or more difficult, or more complicated, or more interesting, or more new…
Always when I work I say, “Yes, it’s beautiful — but who cares? What is the reason?” First of all, it has to be a concept. And after, when I get to the concept, very often I will say, “Oh, let’s go home!” Because for me, the work is done. But the transformation of the concept to the reality, that’s the tough part. Also kind of boring, but difficult. You say, “Okay, the dress should represent that idea, but how can we do it? Represent that idea?” For me it’s easier because when I get to the concept, I relax. But after, to translate the concept into reality is much more boring. But where you really learn more. Translating an idea to reality. That’s probably the most difficult part.
That doesn’t mean, though, that her work is art:
I make a difference, that fashion is not art. It’s creative, it’s very creative. The only thing it has in common is the creativity. But it is completely different because … well, there’s all the polemic that the art world is more commercial! But art is working on absolute ideas, conceptual ideas in general. First of all, my work is commercial. It requires a lot of creativity. And my other point, or objective, or scope, is to introduce intelligence and culture in the work. To demonstrate that intelligence and even culture helps the commerce. But not in the sense that you put a few things in the shop, no. If you are cultivated, you do a better job. It’s not an extra.
Read the full interview with Prada — including why she shies from collaborations, and is waiting for the season she’ll go out and just say “sorry!” — on Document Journal’s website or in the seventh print issue, now on newsstands. Plus, click through the slideshow to see Willy Vanderperre’s photos of Julia Nobis in archival Prada, including crystal PVC from 2002 and wool-cashmere jacquard from 2013.