MILAN — Sweeping changes have been made to Prada Group’s management structure in view of a generational handover and ahead of a potential double listing in Milan. But there is one constant that co-creative directors Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons resolutely express — their mutual understanding, respect and fruitful relationship.
Give or take a few minor exceptions — Simons loves to listen to music during fittings while Prada would rather not — the intellectual connection between the two designers is undeniable. And it has contributed to bolstering the performance of the company, which in the first six months of 2022 reported a 22 percent uptick in revenues to 1.9 billion euros.
The Italian designer has relinquished her role as co-chief executive officer previously held with her husband Patrizio Bertelli — now to be named chairman of the group — welcoming Andrea Guerra to helm the company and Gianfranco D’Attis as CEO of the Prada label. Bertelli and Prada’s son Lorenzo Bertelli is expected to lead the group in a few years’ time and, in her thoughtful way, Prada expressed an increasing awareness of her responsibility toward the company and its employees. In November, Simons shuttered his namesake line after 27 years, leading to speculation about a possible increased role at the Prada brand in the future. But the Belgian designer firmly denied his decision was linked to that prospect, voicing the closure resulted from more personal reasons.
Here, the designers underscore the importance of taking reality into account for the sake of their customers and respecting them, avoiding unnecessary spectacles. But they stressed that creativity remains central, as do curiosity, long-term thinking, being inspiring and intellectual honesty.
WWD: We thought this was a very interesting moment to talk to you both because of all the changes within the company, but also outside, in the fashion industry.
Miuccia Prada: While I was waiting for the interview, I was thinking, how do we situate ourselves? It’s just a suggestion because I try to really understand the core of what we are doing in the company. Basically it’s about confronting with the richness of lives of people, and richness of lives means variety, it means drama, happy things, beautiful things, bad things. This is what I think we actually do and of course it’s not easy to do because to seriously confront the richness of lives considering the global world and so on is definitely not easy.
And I think it requires real culture, which is a very serious engagement. Because you don’t improvise that, you don’t understand problems with superficiality, you have really to dig deeply into this and study, read, whatever. And I think that Prada always wanted to be engaged in culture, but not only to be engaged like looking at it, but we want to produce culture, which is also very different, to be proactive in the creation of something that makes sense. And of course, doing our job is difficult because we have to do it with the same seriousness, with the same dedication and with the same determination. To be determined, that is the word I was looking for and that is really the point.
WWD: This is very interesting and leads me to one of my questions, because I know that you have always been interested in on a commentary on society, of what was happening around you.
M.P.: No, this [collection] is not a commentary. We are part of it, it’s different.
WWD: But now that you are working together, do you each feel about society in different ways?M.P.: We agree 100 percent on these views.
Raf Simons: Totally. I have to say, Miuccia, you put it in very good words, very clearly because we do feel the same and sometimes we are not always able to exactly put it in words. If we think about what we have been doing over several seasons, it’s that we have really been bathing in reality. I think that is something that we both felt very strongly about from the moment we started working together — that the sense of reality is very important to us, being related to our society and in our lives right now and everything that is happening in the world. And to us, it seems like that is the right thing to do, to kind of bring a reality in the context of fashion, you know, because fashion can be very much also many other things, like the spectacular or the fantasy, or the comments or the reaction or the anti. And obviously, we have a specific point of view both of us, and that matches also, in a big part, I guess, otherwise, we wouldn’t even have ended up designing together. Reality toward the people actually is crucial to us right now.
WWD: Has this changed and intensified more recently because of how the world has changed, because of the war and the global tensions?
R.S.: Partly. I think for us it goes back to before the war clearly, because it’s something we have done since we started. Miuccia, I am curious to know how you see it, but [for many years], we have been very specific and reactive, giving lots of comments or dealing with specific topics that could kind of be perceived as non-reality. We have also been working on narratives and so there was a disconnection between the fashion show itself and the reality of people’s lives.
M.P.: I always said that I don’t like the word “dream.” Because if you have a dream I try to achieve it, but if it’s something impossible, I prefer not to even think about that. But I agree with you, Raf, on what you were saying. It seems to be right for the moment. And this does not mean that we don’t need to be creative. Actually, we have to be even more creative because we believe in our job as fashion designers.
R.S.: It’s less easy. We both know that it’s more difficult to work like this.
R.S.: It’s easier to find the crazy narrative or to take whatever inspiration or to do the spectacular or the fantastic. It’s easier to impress people with all of these things. It is more difficult to convince people or to make people believe in something that is bathed in reality. Still, it is our aim and I think that we are both also looking at it not only from a kind of an angle where we see ourselves as product designers. I don’t know how to explain it very well but we are not thinking that we are Prada or Miuccia or Raf and create something crazy and everybody is going to scream “WOW.” We are thinking “what is our job?” Our job is to make clothes that people are going to wear, at the service of people.
M.P.: Yes, but I don’t want this to be misunderstood, because it’s not that we do what people want, actually.
R.S.: That’s what makes it difficult.
M.P.: Because we have to be so much in contact with the spirit of the time, that what we think is right, it makes sense to people. But we have to think about what makes sense to people in a clever way, in a creative way. So it’s not a joke.
R.S.: It’s exactly that point, what you say now, what for me makes it more difficult.
M.P.: Of course, it’s more difficult.
R.S.: What is it that people want, and then to kind of find an angle or to find a twist to not make it a dull or flat and commercial, but to keep on making clothes that do inspire people. This is what I mean when I say it needs some serious work and thinking.
M.P.: Also, I think that is very political. I think it’s a very political choice. Because dedication to your job is what is crucial and what is missing so much in the world. Even in governments. No, it’s better I don’t approach this subject. It’s our duty, it’s correct, but not politically correct, it’s right.
WWD: You believe that dedication and being serious about your job are key as fashion designers, but there have been some appointments recently of individuals who are not really designers and who are entering the world of fashion, and we have seen quite a few revolving doors.
M.P.: Oh no, I never comment on competitors. [Pauses] I will say that there is a lot of variety.
R.S.: I have a lot of other things that we could possibly talk about and one comment that I would like to give — and it’s not related to any designer actually or any new appointment or people in place since a long time. What I am really, really questioning a lot is how many brands that I see performing in a way that I think like how can you make decisions that are so much based on short-term thinking? I’m struck from it sometimes. And this is not only or maybe far from only appointing creative directors and brands, this goes way beyond that.
And therefore, I think Miuccia and I, even if it’s not something that we have actually talked about regularly, I think we feel an enormous, enormous respect for our client, the people that buy the clothes, wear the clothes, love the clothes, and keep on always following the brand. It is something like, there was almost hardly anything that I find more exciting to concentrate on than that. And, besides that, to focus on the DNA of the brand. You have to always kind of come back to your products.
WWD: Well, in fact, I remember Mrs. Prada, you once said that this is not an abstract job?
R.S.: No, exactly.
WWD: Do you still feel this way?
M.P.: I don’t think we are artists because we do a job for a company that has to sell the clothes. What I care very much about and also when I judge people is intellectual honesty. What I don’t like sometimes in the current moment [is] that everybody pretends to be something they’re not. And not only in fashion but in general.
R.S.: I completely agree.
WWD: Understood. Now, is there anything in particular that you would like to tell us about the collection for fall?
M.P.: We realized that what we were doing by chance is exactly the same subject of the exhibition now staged at Fondazione Prada. [“Recyling Beauty,” about the reuse of Greek and Roman antiquities in art from the Middle Ages to the Baroque era.] The invitation is the catalogue of the exhibition because it connects with something that we are doing in the collection. So this is an example of how things on different levels match.
WWD: Because of that intellectual honesty, probably?
WWD: In fact, what kind of exhibitions, movies, cultural events do you each go to? Do your interests outside fashion coincide and how do they converge and influence your fashion?
M.P.: We discuss them sometimes, but we are always too busy [laughing], but for sure we share things.
WWD: Is there something in particular that you have seen recently that impressed you?
R.S.: I think in general that everything is woven together in our daily conversations anyway, it’s not that we talk only about the clothes or the fashion shows. It’s automatic — what I also want to say is that we’ve known each other for a long time, but it’s not like we would hang out a lot, we would see each other occasionally. For example, I remember we were coincidentally both together in Tokyo when you did the show, Miuccia. And then there was, of course, the history of Jil [Sander when Simons was named creative director under the Prada Group ownership in 2005]. We’ve always stayed a little bit in touch. But what is more important is that we always felt that there is that connection.
M.P.: Yes, exactly.
R.S.: You can see that very well. On each of us. Any designer’s work that goes out is obviously connected to the persona. So in that sense, you can also learn who the persona is and there was always this connection.
M.P.: Exactly, I knew him perfectly and naturally.
R.S.: Me too.
M.P.: And I knew because I need to always look at people through their work. I like working with people, because it’s the only way that you can really know people, is working with them. And working with him was the most natural thing possible. As if we were always working together.
WWD: Did you discover something of one another that you didn’t really know?
M.P.: Nothing major.
WWD: Is there something that you can tell us that surprised you?
R.S.: [Pausing] I don’t know. I mean, sometimes we completely disagree on an artist, for example. Obviously, I’m not going to give names. But like 99 percent or 95 percent, it’s the opposite. It clicks together in such a natural way like Miuccia already said, that sometimes it’s almost more surprising to me how much we do agree and how much we do kind of have in common. But then obviously we also have very specific individual tastes on certain things. I guess when something is not immediately popping up, indeed it’s not something major.
M.P.: Not relevant.
WWD: Is there something in the past that maybe you think back and you regret not doing because one of you did not insist enough?
M.P.: No, I remember sometimes I gave up doing something because I was told Raf had already done it. It happened at least three or four times [laughing].
WWD: That means that you really do think alike.
M.P.: Very often.
WWD: How has the relationship evolved? We can maybe say that at first you were dating and now it’s a marriage?
M.P.: For me, I don’t know if it’s because I’m becoming old or because the times are delicate, but I feel the responsibility of the company, which was something that for many, many years, I couldn’t care less. I mean, it was me and my husband, we woke up in the morning, we did whatever we wanted. But now it’s a big company. And it’s inspiring. My son [Lorenzo] joined, we have great management additions, so I feel the responsibility of doing well, and now together with [Simons] to balance the intellectual honesty, the sophistication, and what is needed by the company. That is the crucial point, to keep the right equilibrium between freedom, creativity and sophistication. And still the company has to work.
R.S.: When you say in the beginning you were dating, and now it’s a marriage, I kind of agree, but we have to take into account that there was the COVID-19 period, which was literally kicking off the day that I stepped into the company. So that was a little off and suddenly, I had to go back to Antwerp and couldn’t start in the moment, but then, you know, like, you have conversations over the phone and over Zoom.
I would say that even if we were not physically together, we were very, very constantly together. And now, even when I am working with the team and Miuccia is not there, maybe with her team on Miu Miu for a few hours, to me it never really feels that Miuccia is just not there. That is not to say that I know how she thinks or how she would react. Because that could be surprising. But that is also what I find sublime about it. Obviously, I’m talking about the moments when we are not together because the majority of the moments we are together.
M.P.: I know what I have to ask him and what I know is fine for him.
WWD: You mentioned Miu Miu — do you know when something is Prada and when it’s Miu Miu?
M.P.: Actually, all my life, I tried to confuse ideas [laughing], trying do to in Prada what in theory should be Miu Miu and vice versa.
R.S.: But your work is also very instinctive. As theoretical and intellectual as people might see us, I think that instinct is another very, very important word that could be possibly defining us, I think, absolutely.
M.P.: Yes, absolutely.
R.S.: Another thing I wanted to say is that in the later stage, let’s say more in the last year, we isolate ourselves more, we take the lunch together alone, just the two of us. Basically, we talk.
M.P.: And we ask ourselves what are we doing? Because we usually do everything by instinct. So that’s why today we couldn’t be able to tell you anything precise because we did not have that discussion yet. And the title of the show generally comes very late.
R.S.: Because we work instinctively, we ask ourselves does this really feel right? And then obviously, it’s connected to certain things that we wanted to say and wanted to do. There was also this more abstract way of working than we both used to have a long time ago. OK, translated, it means like, we rarely start with a narrative, for example, you know, and we used to do that. Like, I would say I want to do a “Twin Peaks” collection, or Miuccia would say, I want to do a Frankenstein collection. That’s not how we are working right now.
WWD: That’s interesting, but why do you think this has changed?
M.P.: I think it doesn’t sound right anymore. And also avoiding the storytelling, you concentrate more on the concept of what is meaningful.
R.S.: Me personally, I can’t always say why something is right now like this. It’s just the way we talk to each other. It’s like, this is what really feels right for me and then Miuccia says this is what feels right for me and we feel strongly connected. And it doesn’t mean that we are not open for differences in our approach of ideas. To me, it’s a reinforcement. If I already feel it instinctively and Miuccia does as well, because she is not the kind of person who is going to kind of shake her head, bow and say yes, she’s going to go against if she thinks differently.
M.P.: We find it kind of consoling to have such a mutual support. So if I am convinced of something and he is convinced of the same thing, I feel more sure, more safe.
R.S.: But to come back to your earlier question, because maybe you like a funny anecdote — I know how it works. What could be more surprising is that we also adapt to each other in terms of how we work because there were here and there some major differences. I have never, ever, ever, ever in my life been able to do a fitting without music. And Miuccia not at all with music.
M.P.: So now, he’s very nice because he just puts it on when the girl walks. But after he switches it off.
WWD: What kind of music?
R.S.: All kinds, but usually it’s music that is strongly connected to me and the collection, not necessarily a new record. Because my own history as a brand has been so much connected to music also, because that was my upbringing in a way. And for Miuccia, it was different but it’s not a problem, because I’m totally at ease now doing fittings without music. But closer to the show, I find it very difficult without music. So then we do music, but it’s like more silent for example.
M.P.: Instead of bum bum bum [mimicking and smiling].
R.S.: Something else that is very different is that at one point, of course, you have to decide which pieces are going to be made in which fabrics and in which colors before they go in production for the runway. That is something that Miuccia can do theoretically on a table with drawings and little pieces of fabric. And I can do it but I’m usually not feeling completely at ease. So me, I like to have a girl or a boy in front of me. Take the fabric, put it on the boy. Preferably let the boy or the girl walk and then make decisions like OK, let’s do red or let’s do beige, or let’s do wool, or let’s do cashmere.
M.P.: Actually, I realized that what he’s doing makes sense, because it’s not that you see a lot, because sometimes the color is in really little pieces. But he gets it and I try to learn it, in that sense I follow you.
WWD: There’s always something to learn, you are saying?
R.S.: Yes, but it’s not better or not, it’s just, you know, like your nature. I think it has been Miuccia’s nature for a long time to work like that and then we find a way to kind of morph those two ways of working and it becomes almost a new nature, I think.
WWD: Earlier we were talking about the changes at the Prada company, and you have decided to shutter your own line, which has also led to a lot of speculation.
R.S.: It’s not related at all to my position at Prada.
M.P.: What was the speculation?
R.S.: Many people are probably thinking that I stopped my brand to be fully on Prada, which is obviously completely untrue. Because I made the reasons for stopping very clear. They’re very personal. And they relate more to my own life in the sense that, you know, like, I have been dealing with two brands at the same time for a very long time. Prior to entering Jil Sander, I was also doing two things at the same time — teaching at the University of Vienna and my brand. And I came to a point that I felt like now I don’t want to do that anymore. It sounds a bit weird to say because it almost sounds like I didn’t have a life, but it was very intense. And for many, many years. And I want to see my parents more and my love, and my friends and I want to travel more. Also, I started to notice that I kind of really didn’t travel anymore. And I have already traveled a little more like, for example, in December, I went to Japan, like Christmas, New Year, we went to Japan. And it’s something that was not even possible in the last 27 years.
WWD: You feel more free?
R.S.: And it also frees up my thinking. But the main, main reason is to be more with family.
WWD: We didn’t talk about traveling as an inspiration. I don’t know if that is something that is helping you both.
R.S.: For me, very much. Yes, I have to say and I didn’t do it for a long time. And I mean, I was texting Miuccia also, while I was in Tokyo because I was there a few days and I think I almost forgot how much it does give me very important impulses, and also just to see these different realities of different geographies and how people are in different places. For me, yes.
WWD: I also wanted to ask you about the guests at the shows, as you were saying earlier, there’s a lot of spectacle. You used to have some very close friends of the brand for many years, but now you’ve also opened up to other kinds of guests, such as the K-pop artists.
M.P.: This is part of the current world. So because you want to deal with reality, that is part of the reality, different reality and I am very curious about it.
WWD: You opened up to a diversified and larger group of people coming to your shows, but you are no longer holding the conversations you had during COVID- 19. Is that something that you were thinking maybe of doing again? What did you learn from that? Is it something that you could consider?
M.P.: Because of the COVID-19, we felt the necessity, because people couldn’t talk with us after the show.
R.S.: That was a very important reason. And then I think also like, the shows are obviously not only showing the clothes, they are also a social moment, and out of that comes conversation. It’s very important for Miuccia and I because basically, everything we do comes out of conversation. So one way or another we find the conversation with the audience also very important. That is complex, of course, because, as you said, the audience is enlarging and enlarging and enlarging. So the conversation partly becomes an abstraction, and the best you can probably do is to connect one way or another. Obviously, we can’t really talk with all of them. It’s not like having a dialogue like we have with you now, that would be impossible and we would probably not be able to work anymore and only do this. But it is an important part of reality.
M.P.: Actually, that is for me one of the most difficult things, you want to know everybody, you want to know everything, those cultures reunited in a global world, and how can you do it? I desperately read, ask to try to know what’s happening, because I think it’s very important. That’s why I think if somebody closes up, it’s not a critique, but the famous global local, the global is so complicated, so difficult, so beyond the possibility of really getting it that maybe at some point you prefer to close up. Even artists, directors, it’s more probable that they do movies on a specific subject near to them, because the knowledge of the whole is difficult, even for philosophers, difficult for politicians and so on. But that is what I would love to do, desperately know everything. In that sense, the pop culture, because if something is interesting for people, it means that there is a sense to it. Good or bad? I don’t know. But for sure, I don’t want to reject any aspect of the current moment.
WWD: Last question, and then I will let you go. You are having a party after the show, is there a specific reason? It’s the first time in a long time, I think?
M.P.: It’s Raf’s suggestion [smiling].
R.S.: Yes, I think that directly relates to what we were just talking about. Anyway, I think that it’s an extension of a possible connection and conversation and to bring people together around and in the brand. So obviously, a party is also a celebration and a release, you know, so I think internally as well as externally. I like a good party [smiling].