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If someone had told Miuccia Prada in her younger, rebellious years that, in the future, she would take charge of the family business and become one of the most influential designers of her time, she would have laughed. That is because nothing pointed in that direction. A militant Communist and Feminist, graduated in political sciences, she trained for several years as a mime at the prestigious Teatro Piccolo in Milan (she said she chose this discipline as a pretext to keep silent).
But, in retrospect, it all makes senses because her nature is contradictory and she has always liked to surprise those around her. If, for the young Miuccia, the idea of devoting her time to creating handbags or shoes would have seemed thoroughly unappealing, surely she would have been grateful for the opportunity to become influential: on one occasion she declared that, even as a teenager, being a pioneer was of utmost importance to her.
Miuccia Prada began her professional career in Milan working in the family business, a luxury leather goods supplier to the Italian royal family. She took the helm of the company in 1977, following on her mother’s footsteps. A year later, she met Patrizio Bertelli, owner of a company that manufactured leather goods, who soon became her mentor and eventually was granted the exclusivity for the production of the bags she designed.
They would later marry and have two children, sharing not only their private life but also their careers, especially after Bertelli was appointed executive director of the company. A key factor in the success of Prada is the combination of both their talents: he is considered a genius of marketing and she is an impressive designer. Miuccia always seeks to create rare and eccentric products while Bertelli focuses on how to sell them, “she is air, and he is ground,” observed one of their former aids.
“Most of my work consists in destroying the conventional ideas of beauty and glamour of bourgeois women”, she said of her role as a designer. “It could be that I don’t like fashion; however, I love clothes. Although I never decided to be a designer, at some point I discovered I was one”, she declared.
On the other hand, some critics think Miuccia Prada doesn`t make clothes for women`s bodies but for their brains, and confirm that her unique vision of beauty dominates fashion; others say that her greatest talent is her extraordinary vision to foresee cultural changes, adding that she has the gift of designing what she likes to wear, and what she likes to wear is immediately accepted.
Behind her tremendous success and undeniable talent and clarity of ideas, there is a lot of work. For that reason, she had to wait until the first years of the 1990s to reap the rewards of her efforts. It all began in 1985 with the design of her simple and, now mythical, black backpack, inspired by the idea that common materials could look like noble materials and vice versa. She had found an ally in the black nylon used by the Italian army to make parachutes, a tough, lightweight and waterproof component. Although initially it did not sell well, in a few years it became the most desired accessory of the nineties, marking Miuccia Prada`s ascent to the pinnacle of the fashion universe.
In 1989, she introduced her first ready-to-wear collection to great success, and three years later, she presented a more affordable second line called Miu Miu, named after her childhood nickname and inspired on her own wardrobe, another nod to her rebellious spirit. She told Time magazine that the line reflected, “the bad girls I met in college, the ones I envied”. Her Uomo collection of 1993 was her introduction to menswear, and that same year she received the CFDA International Award, a prestigious prize she would win again ten years later for her extraordinary vision and ability to anticipate and lead changes in fashion.
Around this time (early 2000s) she became interested in art, first as a collector and later as a promoter, opening the Fondazione Prada in 2002, an institution devoted to contemporary art, which offers artists the chance to realize their dream projects. In 2001, her name appeared on FORBES list of the richest people in the world, and in 2005, she was included in the annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people, according to Time magazine. In recent years, she has created costumes for different artistic venues, and her latest success was the costume design for Baz Luhmann’s film The Great Gatsby, released earlier this year, and based on F. Scott Fitzgerald iconic novel, which takes us back to the Golden Age of the Roaring Twenties.
Miuccia Prada has made public her desire to delve into politics, a world that always attracted her. After all, she earned a doctorate in political science in 1993 from the University of Milan. She is passionate about her work as a designer, but as she says, it is just her job. Her interests and concerns are directed elsewhere, for example, towards art and politics. ■