Prada’s ‘co-creative director’ strategy and the future of fashion
Prada’s ‘co-creative director’ strategy and the future of fashion
If the 2010s were a stepping stone for modern movements like feminism and inclusivity, the coming decade seems like a physical realisation of those movements. Filled with educational controversies like the blackface debacle by Gucci, it was time that the nostalgia-loving fashion industry sensitised itself with the current affairs of the world.
Among these eyebrow-raising news, a glimmer of hope seemed to have taken the fashion industry by storm. On 23 February 2020, the Prada group announced that their conglomerate, Prada Group, will be headed by their past acquaintance Raf Simons along with the house’s current director Miuccia Prada. Both Raf and Miuccia will now be ‘co-creative directors’ of the group that has prestigious brands like Prada and Miu Miu under its portfolio.
Coming to the group’s history, the brand Prada was started by Mario Prada in Italy. In 1913, Mario opened his first store in Milan by offering leather luggage pieces and luxury goods. After gaining popularity for their exceptional craftsmanship, the brand was credited as the Official Supplier to the Italian Royal House in 1919 which the brand holds the title of to this day. Since then, the brand has continuously maintained its prestigious image in the European luxury space with expansion into various international locations like China, UK, Japan and Australia. Prada is often deemed to have an ‘ugly-chic’ aesthetic due to Miuccia’s unusual inspirations for her collections. While Miuccia is not known for her hands-on approach to designing her garments, they have gained notoriety for out-of-the-box aesthetics and more art-oriented references with the brand also recently diving into streetwear with classic pieces like nylon parkas and black combat boots.
Raf Simons, on the other hand, is a pioneer in the fashion industry. Raf is no stranger to the Prada Group as he was a part of the label, Jil Sander, from 2003 to 2012. Jil Sander was managed by the Prada Group and Raf’s immense success during his stint at Sander gave the designer a name for himself in the fashion industry, which eventually landed him a Creative Director position at Dior in April 2012. Raf is known for his eclectic taste in fashion that captures various pop culture references that eventually end up changing the course of the fashion culture itself.
Many have called this decision revolutionary and now expect a lot more from their flagship brand Prada. According to Statista, the global net sales of Prada have seen a continuous decline and their brand image has been struggling with the rise of brands like Gucci, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, etc. Its direct competitors LVMH, Kering and Richemont Group have taken several measures to fight for dominance in the luxury market. From acquiring new brands to redesigning old ones, there is a plethora of creative business strategies that these luxury conglomerates have adapted to survive in the market.
However, Prada’s case is an unusual one. While renowned creative directors like John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and even Yves Saint Laurent knew how to tailor garments by hand. Galliano was famous for his bias cuts at Dior, McQueen worked at Savile Row before landing at Givenchy and Yves catapulted ‘The New Look’ design into the mainstream using luxurious wool fabric tailored for the customers. However, Miuccia is different in her approach. Much like Karl Lagerfeld, Miuccia is known to be more of a curator rather than a designer at Prada. Instead of working with fabrics and creating garments, she insists on working with illustrations and pictures while simultaneously relying on her seamstresses at the ateliers to elaborate her concepts and produce the garments. This doesn’t allow her approach to be hands-on, but rather strategically directional. This is eerily similar to how Raf works for his collections. Much like Miuccia, Raf relies on heavy imagery to form a theme for a collection. In the documentary ‘Dior and Me’, Raf is seen organising various folders of images that he feels inspired by, and then meticulously hands over a file to his designers to make sketches. The more we magnify their working styles, the more we see similarities in their design processes. Thus, if the two decide to work closely on the same projects, it wouldn’t be difficult for any of the entities involved, be it Raf and Miuccia or their teams as the working styles of both are non-identical twins of each other.
One approach might come from a separatist perspective where in future, Miuccia and Raf may work on different projects altogether. Prada’s menswear has made itself popular among streetwear enthusiasts for delivering exceptional quality along with military references spread across its entire catalogue. This seems a perfect opportunity for Raf to shine, which seems similar to the one at Calvin Klien. Raf is comedically referred to as the ‘Dad’ of fashion, and while his age might certainly be one of the reasons, he is often known to mould fashion into his vision while delivering hints that point to various cultural concepts that make his clothing intriguing, and hence, desirable. His inspirations are usually independent of traditional brand concepts and usually surrounded by works of artists. This translates well into Prada’s brand history where Miuccia has, on several occasions, proved her brand to be the unusually chic service lane rather than the usual glamorous highway of pretty clothes. Miuccia has always referenced art into her collection and Raf fits into Prada’s schemes like a glove.
However, one use case scenario that remains to be questioned is whether this strategy would make a dent into the rigid structure of the business of fashion. The world might be moving on from strict hierarchy to fluid flat lay, however, this strategy is nothing short of the most risky business decision that Prada has ever made. The fashion world is no stranger to creative duos. Viktor and Rolf, Oscar de la Renta’s Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, and even Viviene Westwood and Andras Kronthaler for Westwood – all have significant contributions to the fashion world. However, none of them actually match the recognition Raf and Miuccia have gained in their fashion legacy which makes it even more curious in several ways.
One particular vision that excites many fashion enthusiasts is the creation of a pool of Creative Directors within each conglomerate. This pool will allow them to float between brands to showcase their collections for different seasons. For example, if LVMH creates such a pool with current creative heads, we might be able to see Marc Jacobs back at Louis Vuitton for one collection, and Nicolas Ghesquiere designing for Balenciaga’s old-time nemesis Givenchy for another. Such a concept already exists in the real world, but in a more subdued manner. The immense popularity of designer collaborations with mass-market retail brands has proved that a fashion consumer is always excited for a unique capsule collection.
The best example is Moncler’s Genius collaborations where the brand collaborates with a different designer each season. While this kind of collaboration may not work for bigger conglomerates, the success of existing brands like Moncler shows us that collaborations are the possible future of fashion. But the fashion world will have to take some serious measures to provide this kind of unprecedented fluidity. Extending the case of LVMH, Bernard Arnault has always been a fan of risky business strategies, but this by far, will be luxury conglomerate’s biggest challenge, if overcome, might just change the face of fashion.