photography by MANUELA PAVESI
interview by MASSIMO TORRIGIANI
Miuccia Prada leads a very private life. All that’s known for sure is that she has a doctorate in political science, was a member of the Italian communist party, and studied mime for five years. In 1978 she was thrust into the directorship of the leather goods company her grandfather started in 1913. She designed her first Prada collection in 1989 and created the label Miu Miu in 1992. Without a doubt, she’s Italy’s best designer, collection to collection, season to season. Her close friend, Italian photographer Manuela Pavesi, shot this mix of new and old Miu Miu and Prada collections, modeled by two women of different generations, revealing some of the unconventional and eccentric facets of Miuccia Prada’s double vision.MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — You’ve lived in Milan all your life. How has the city changed?
MIUCCIA PRADA — I don’t want to talk about Milan. I don’t have many good things to say about it. For me, Milan is my city. Milan is work, family, friends, and the permanent space for the Fondazione Prada.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Why do you stay in Milan?
MIUCCIA PRADA — My husband, his sense of duty, of morality, and perhaps the idea of doing something useful for Italy. He’s extremely generous and always wants to do the right thing.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Some people consider the Fondazione Prada a gift and others that it’s a slap in the face to Milan, which has been unable to develop its own contemporary art center.
MIUCCIA PRADA — I don’t see our museum as a gift to the city. I don’t want to take credit for it, or to be considered generous.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Where do you get your inspiration and ideas?
MIUCCIA PRADA — From everywhere, but beginning with the people around me. It’s a random process, but it starts with a personal instinct, or an intimate quest, and follows trajectories that link disparate things.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — One of the main features of your work is that you accentuate details that some might consider mistakes. You challenge ideas about what’s right or wrong.
MIUCCIA PRADA — Thank you. I’m glad that someone gets it. It’s particularly true of my men’s collections. I’m working on one right now and yesterday someone at the office worriedly asked me, “You’re not going to make short skirts again, are you?” So I’m now pushing it even further, just for revenge! I’m most interested in the challenging side of my work, where I honestly have fun.
I like to make the oddest things seem normal, classic, and effortless. When other designers do something absurd no one seems surprised, but my men’s skirts are considered outrageous. For me, that means that I was right. It’s both a way to progress within my brand and a way to understand how to spread ideas — little contributions I can make through the visibility and power of my design.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — But there must be something else motivating you to re-think menswear.
MIUCCIA PRADA — Menswear is so limited, so I’m free with my ideas. Otherwise, I’d die of boredom. Menswear should take cues from womenswear, and not just the other way around.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Men gave up the fun of clothing!
MIUCCIA PRADA — Indeed they did. But only in the last century or so. Before, men dressed up more than women. So I don’t understand why my designs cause such a scandal.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Your fans can be the worst enemies of change and evolution. They like things to stay the same.
MIUCCIA PRADA — That’s true, but I don’t really know my fans. Most of the time I’m right here in the company, where there’s more criticism than unconditional support, and rightly so. We’re not very popular in the press. I never experienced a total success. The classicists thought I was strange, and fashion followers thought I was too classical. I was never easy to identify. Along the way people must have found something in what I do, but no one ever seems completely satisfied.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — How do you balance other people’s expectations and your desire for change?
MIUCCIA PRADA — What I do is never considered luxurious or bourgeois enough. My work is about finding the things that really interest me within the framework of a big company, that make it all worthwhile. My alleged mistakes are part of Prada’s identity.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — I think desire and emotion are overestimated. The media and the arts aim for the lowest common denominator.
MIUCCIA PRADA — I agree. I had to make a great effort in the opposite direction, while still injecting my feelings into my work. In the last few years I’ve tried to put more emotion into what I do. I think that if you put a bit of your soul in your work your messages reach further. However, I do think that passion should always be cooled down to the point where it’s neutral. I tend towards control and coldness and I realize that people like me more when I let go.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — How has your work changed over the years?
MIUCCIA PRADA — When I worked on shows early in my career the only thing that mattered were the clothes. One of the main changes I’ve perceived is that in order to make an idea come across, you have to be flashier. You can’t be too subtle, or no one will take notice. Everything you do must have a clear message. This is tiring. It goes against my feelings. There are fashion lovers who understand everything and then there are those who are only interested in the gossip. A few days before a show I ask myself, “What’s the title?” The title is the message and I try and come up with something as straightforward and simple as possible, even if, in this system, the press has a tendency to create impressions from preconceived points of view. For example, if there’s a recession, everything is seen in relation to the recession, even if a designer is following another route altogether. Everything is swayed by news headlines.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — What do you think about the rhetoric of the current economic crisis? And about the idea of rethinking our priorities and values? I have the feeling that scarcity leads to things closing up and to the rich keeping their resources to themselves.
MIUCCIA PRADA — I think that this recession will force everybody to work harder and more efficiently. Things that have a meaning and are also beautiful are the easiest to sell. But I don’t know if I would attach a morality to this. From an extremely practical point of view, art prices may have fallen, but good artists keep the market going. I think this cliché is true.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — From the outside it looks like your husband, Patrizio Bertelli, takes care of the business and you oversee the creative side.
MIUCCIA PRADA — It’s much more complicated than that. The preparation of the catwalk shows is my duty, but I’m also very intrigued by the economic and managerial dimensions of the company, like where, why, and how we open our shops. Ideally, I would like to know exactly what sells in China and exactly what sells in America. I’ve come to realize that American women are increasingly more American, and German women more German, but that people of emerging countries are much more open to differences. Europe is becoming extremely conservative. This information keeps your feet on the ground and gives you an idea of what’s going on. A big company is difficult to run, but it’s also much more fun.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Do you like designing clothes for a large international clientele or is it frustrating to have to adapt to the masses?
MIUCCIA PRADA — I don’t agree with other designers who only want to address a small public, which is relatively easy. What’s difficult is keeping your integrity with a larger public. Given that I do commercial work, I want it to be as large as possible. If I only had to make four dresses for four fashion snobs, I’d change jobs. Maybe in the beginning I wanted to make clothes for the sophisticated few. But that doesn’t interest me anymore. The aspect of my work that challenges me the most today is dealing with numbers, with the company, and with the people who work with us.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — From you experience, what’s the difference between fashion and art?
MIUCCIA PRADA — The creative processes are the same, but the aims are clearly different. My aim, notwithstanding the fact that my work is creative, is to sell products. You can say that artists also have to sell. But the thought behind art is abstract, at least in theory. Fashion and art are so different that I haven’t given their relationship much thought. I do a commercial job and perform the very concrete task of selling to a large number of people, which gives value to what I do. Artists sell to a very small number of people. When a great many women and men spend their money to buy your clothes, you begin to understand what makes sense and what doesn’t.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — But money doesn’t seem to be your primary motivation.
MIUCCIA PRADA — You’re right. My husband and I disregard the clichés of the luxury industry. Our approach is different. We’re not driven by the idea of making money. We have to earn money to allow Prada to flourish, to continue with all the activities we’re known for — even if we’re considered crazy by the establishment, and by the banks, who think we should invest in our “core business.” We are physically unable to behave the way we’re expected to. The world may be very conservative, but we speak a different language.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — How and when did you decide to take on the family business?
MIUCCIA PRADA — I don’t know when it was. I know I was fairly reluctant, but I was really pushed by esthetics and my love of clothes. I never had a sense of history or heritage. My company sometimes uses these things, because we actually do have a past, compared to those companies that have to invent one. Those companies don’t interest me one bit.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Do you let things outside your control happen?
MIUCCIA PRADA — Yes. The company is huge and the number of products we manufacture is enormous. I’m basically lazy and I’d be happy if others would do more things for me. But I do understand the need to run the collections, and I really can’t let things go.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Do you listen to music?
MIUCCIA PRADA — Music is one of the few things I don’t follow. I was interested in classical music as a girl, but that was it.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — I met you backstage at an Antony and the Johnsons concert here in Milan.
MIUCCIA PRADA — I love Antony. We did a video project together, for the song “Fallen Shadows.”
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Have you ever played a musical instrument?
MIUCCIA PRADA — No. I would like to sing, but I can’t hit a note.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Do you follow the media?
MIUCCIA PRADA — Only the most creative sources. But to do so on a regular basis is a full-time job. Lately I’ve become interested in my son’s philosophy books.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Why philosophy?
MIUCCIA PRADA — I’ve always been interested in it. My oldest son is studying philosophy and together we’re exploring writers I’ve read and half-forgotten, or that I sidestepped altogether when I was a student.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Your children are in their late teens and early twenties. What are your impressions of this generation?
MIUCCIA PRADA — My impressions are very good. I don’t know if my children are particularly clever, or if they have a particular talent in choosing friends, but the 18-to-20-year-olds who hang out at my house are sharp, aware, curious, and cultivated. When they talk about history or literature they have a sense of time, they create connections between different subjects, and they have a methodology that I don’t think my genera-tion had. Maybe it has to do with new ways of teaching.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Do you watch television?
MIUCCIA PRADA — No, not really.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Do you have a computer?
MIUCCIA PRADA — No. Other people use computers for me. But I’m very interested in the internet. If I only had the time.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Do you go to the movies?
MIUCCIA PRADA — Not anymore. I watch movies at home. Last night I saw Ordet by Carl Theodor Dreyer, in Danish with English subtitles. It was beautiful and extremely intense. But subtitles are a drag. You never know if you have to watch or read. I prefer dubbed movies. You lose something, but you can at least concentrate on the images. Ordet figured in a project we did in Seoul with Alejandro González Iñárritu. He chose the ten or 15 films that most influenced him. He talked about projecting them in Transformer, the space Rem Koolhaas designed for us in Seoul. I’m watching all these movies at home now. I wondered why he chose Ordet, Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Soy Cuba, and Silent Light. I tried to find the common threads in these films, which are nature and moral and religious issues. Two of the films have endless scenes of waves. He also chose Fist in the Pocket, by Marco Bellocchio, and Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad, two of my favorites. The costumes in Marienbad are very beautiful — the black gown in it is a true fashion reference.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — What about Rem Koolhas do you like most?
MIUCCIA PRADA — His thoughts are never obvious. He’s interested in society and in the socio-political implications of his work. He’s always critical and he always considers approaching subjects from a different point of view. Which is an approach similar to mine.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — How did you meet him?
MIUCCIA PRADA — We had a space to build in Japan, one to build in LA, and we had the former Guggenheim space in downtown New York — important spaces, which we thought required an important architect. My husband and I felt a responsibility to those spaces and started looking for the right person. We came across his books and wondered why he had never been suggested to us. We were told he was “difficult” and that’s when my husband said he was perfect for us, so we wrote him a letter.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — What’s happening with Rem Koolhaas and the construction of the new Fondazione Prada? When will it be ready?
MIUCCIA PRADA — They say it’ll be three years, minimum. The museum proceeds according to its constant adaptations. Koolhaas is integrating the new building into the old one.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — What art were you first interested in?
MIUCCIA PRADA — I liked ’50s abstraction, and then abstraction in general, from Malevich onward.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Why did you choose Germano Celant as the curator of the Fondazione Prada?
MIUCCIA PRADA — Once again, that was my husband’s choice. I didn’t want an important curator. I wanted to do everything my way. In the beginning we had a complicated relationship. I didn’t want him to prevail and he was terrified by the idea of working for a fashion brand. But soon we became friends and everything started to work out.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — How do you choose which artists to work with?
MIUCCIA PRADA — I feel closest to those artists who look for what I look for. I choose artists who make art that enters into reality, art that has a political aim, art that isn’t self-referential. I like Carsten Höller’s Double Club in London, Tobias Rehberger, who’s interested in design and art, and Nathalie Djurberg, who is so young. I went through a cultural learning process. For me, the best way to learn is by doing. After we decided to create the foundation I had to learn about it and run it at the same time. Not as a hobby, but as something that was necessary. Afterward it became more of a personal process.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Do you meet the artists whose work you like?
MIUCCIA PRADA — When I like the work, I like to meet the artist. One thing Germano Celant taught me is that you have to get to know the artists. For me, separating the artists from their work is almost unthinkable.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Have you ever been disappointed by an artist whose work you like?
MIUCCIA PRADA — Not yet. I’m more interested in the work than the person, but I feel that it’s important to talk with artists. They’re among the best people I know.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Do you drive?
MIUCCIA PRADA — Yes. Now, I mostly use a driver, but I do drive.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Is there a place you’d like to visit?
MIUCCIA PRADA — Africa. The people who support Carsten Höller’s Double Club in London keep inviting me to visit Nigeria, and I would really like to go. I would also like to get to know the Middle Eastern countries better, but I need a reason to go.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — The Double Club in London is a good example of an artist dealing with reality. It’s very successful and all the profits go to charity.
MIUCCIA PRADA — Yes, it’s a very interesting project and a strange, alternative place. It was conceived as a collaboration of the Fondazione Prada and the artist Carsten Höller. First and foremost, we wanted to have good food, a good bar, and good music. Of course, we wanted good reviews from the critics — and we got them! The focus was on the club, rather than the art. Höller wants to close the club and reopen it with new features.
MASSIMO TORRIGIANI — Do you drink?
MIUCCIA PRADA — I do. I love bars!
Valeria Magli and Diana Rodella, models — Benoit Bethume, style – Paolo Barbi and Michele Venturi, photographer’s assistants — Karim el Fatih, Giulietta Mora and Carla Marboeuf, stylist’s assistants — Marco M @ OREA MALIA using DAVINES, hair — Jessica Nedza @ ART DEPARTMENT, make-up
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