Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Miuccia Prada for Prada

Miuccia Prada's grandfather, Mario, founded the family luxury leather goods company in Milan in 1913. In 1978, a reluctant Miuccia assumed the reins from her mother, after completing a PhD in Political Science.

She was an unlikely successor, having spent the last five years studying and performing mime at Milan's Teatro Piccolo, being a paid-up member of the Communist party and champion of women's rights in Seventies' Milan. But she soon proved her worth. In 1985, she designed a new line of black, unlabelled, hard-wearing, but finely-woven nylon handbags that immediately became must-haves for the fashion cognoscenti, seen hanging off the arm of the likes of Jerry Hall and Marie Helvin. With retail prices starting at around £250, a bootlegging industry quickly sprang up, making the authentic articles even more desirable. More importantly, Prada bags were established as the accessory of choice for supermodels and fashion editors the world over.

Prada launched her eponymous ready-to-wear collection for autumn/winter 1989 to critical acclaim. The plain, almost austere lines of her designs provided a stark contrast to the overtly sensual designs of other labels of the time and one admiring fashion journalist described Prada's clothes as "uniforms for the slightly disenfranchised". In 1992, she debuted the less expensive bridge line Miu Miu (Miuccia's nickname), inspired by her personal wardrobe of earthier, hippyish garments in natural fabrics and colours. Clean and stylish designs, fine materials and exquisite craftsmanship conspired to win Prada a Council of Fashion Designers of America International Award in 1993. A year later, she showed in New York for the first time and opened her London boutique. She now shows for Prada and Miu Miu twice a year in Milan.

Miuccia met her husband and business partner Patrizio Bertelli at the same time she took the helm of the family company. "If I hadn't met him, I probably would have given up - or at least not been able to do what I have done," she said. It was under Bertelli's sway that the design house started making moves towards becoming an international conglomerate to rival LVMH in 1999/2000, adding such top flight labels as Fendi, Helmut Lang, Jil Sander and Azzedine Alaia to its portfolio of brands.

Notable quote: "I love fashion, but I think it should stay in its place, not rule your life. It's a very nice part of your life, but I think it should be fun."

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