There are few figures in this industry who command the same fervent respect as Miuccia Prada. As beloved by her fellow designers as fashion students, her clothes are worn as regularly by artists as they are international pop stars. Raf Simons is held in similarly high regard by industry types. Often credited with entirely refiguring the landscape of menswear through his namesake brand, his tenure at Dior injected subversion into couture, to say nothing of his compelling exploration of minimalism at Jil Sander and Americana at Calvin Klein.
Prada and Simons have long vocally expressed their admiration of each other (in fact, it was Prada and her husband, Patrizio Bertelli, the Prada Group’s chief executive, who appointed Raf at Jil Sander back when they owned the company). Now, their love affair is becoming something tangible: Raf is joining Mrs Prada as the co-creative director at the house she transformed from a family-run leather goods enterprise into one of the world’s most influential fashion brands.
“We are connected in many different ways; it’s not just a professional but a human relationship,” said Bertelli at a press conference on Sunday 23 February. So, ahead of six months spent wondering what their combined vision will look like on a runway (they will be making their debut for spring/summer 2021), Vogue reflects on what it is that makes them such a perfect match.
They are icons of subversion
Mrs Prada has long rooted her designs in the subversive; she is fascinated by aesthetic provocation, transforming disharmonies into something desirable. She was the designer who made “belle laide” a fashion obsession, whose first “It-bag” was a nylon rucksack, and who once proclaimed that she loved the color brown for its sheer anti-commerciality. Raf, too, is similarly transgressive; his understanding of the American behemoth Calvin Klein was deeply sinister, and his take on the romance of Christian Dior was decidedly punk in its latex-clad rebellion. It’s not particularly radical to love Twin Peaks, but its Lynchian tropes have consistently colored his work and define it well: aesthetic allure with an unsettling undercurrent.
They are proudly political
It is fashion legend that, as a student, Mrs Prada used to wear Saint Laurent on left-wing protest marches – and while she spent much of her career denying that her work directly commented on global politics, in recent years she has become notably more vocal about how her clothing reflects the climate it inhabits. “I try to be political, as much as I can through my work,” she told British Vogue in 2018. “But not in an obvious way because I think that using fashion for politics, it has to be subtle.” In recent seasons, her backstage interviews have become more explicit in their reflections – a direction that sits well alongside Simons’s own proclivities, which have regularly been confrontational in their approach. At Calvin Klein, his take on the nightmarish landscape of Trumpian America was perhaps his most defining aesthetic (Jaws, Scream, and A Nightmare on Elm Street were all primary references there), while his eponymous brand has nodded to everything from freedom fighters to climate change. “You can only speak up,” he said after his Calvin Klein debut. “You have to bring things that stand against it. I think we all have to activate.” At Sunday’s press junket, he said: “A good political party is usually a collaboration between people that’s then offered to an audience.” An indicator of provocative things to come, then.
Both designers are major art fans
Mrs Prada is one of contemporary art’s most notable advocates. A prolific collector, her Fondazione Prada is one of the world’s greatest galleries. It’s certainly nothing new for a fashion designer to love an artful collaboration – scarcely a season goes by without dozens of them now – but her approach is legitimate. Her relationships with the likes of Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrich Obrist are long-standing; her Milan office is famously in possession of a Carsten Höller slide; she collected work by Damien Hirst and Theaster Gates well before they were international names-to-know. Her obsession has regularly infiltrated her work, but she has also collaborated with luminaries such as Liz Diller, James Jean and Christophe Chemin on everything from wearable architecture to printed shirts. Raf, too, is an aficionado. His relationship with Sterling Ruby has resulted in some of the greatest crossovers between the two spheres (those Ruby-designed Calvin Klein showspaces were nothing short of gallery-worthy spectaculars), and he has created collections that paid homage to Robert Mapplethorpe and Pablo Picasso, or enlisted the likes of Peter Saville and Franky Claeys. We can likely anticipate some remarkable inspirations.
They value creativity over commerciality
Back in 2016, Raf and Miuccia sat down for a conversation for System magazine in which Prada proclaimed: “Prada is my own company, so it’s my own fault that it is the size it is, but now I’m at a moment where I really want to focus on what I like, what I care about. I don’t have to care if we don’t grow enough for the market. Whatever, who cares.” Simons takes a similar approach, explaining, “Due to the evolution of the fashion system I see the possibility of having strong businesses without creation. Am I the only one? We question if our corporation can now focus on a creativity that leads to business. I don’t want this to look like we are rejecting the responsibilities because of our desire to reinforce creativity. But we should not forget about creativity.” The global fashion marketplace is, currently, fairly terrifying – and Prada is a public company, whose every fluctuation is commented on incessantly. But rather, then, than worrying about the minutiae of commerce, Prada and Simons are clearly choosing to prioritize pure creativity, taking the approach: build it, and they will come. I imagine that we shall.
Fashion shows still matter to them
Nobody ever regrets the time spent at a Prada show, nor one orchestrated by Simons. They are fully immersive, fully considered reflections of the season they are presenting: you are likely to understand as much about what Mrs Prada is thinking through eating one of her weirdly wonderful backstage canapés as by the shoes on her models, or discover as much about Simons’s current obsessions by Googling his choice of floral arrangements (when he trapped Mark Colle’s bouquets inside perspex cubes for his Jil Sander finale, it somehow entirely embodied his codes for the house). In an age when a day is regularly filled with 12 shows (and that’s to say nothing of showroom appointments), editors and buyers can become slightly disillusioned by attending yet another. But these two designers have consistently reminded us all of the importance of the whole frenzy: that a fashion show can offer more than just good social media content, but can rather represent a remarkable experience that speaks to the very heart of a brand. We imagine September is going to be particularly special. Mrs Prada’s favorite canapé chef, Corrado Calza, had better get planning.
Originally published on Vogue.co.uk