MILAN — Prada is taking its design team east and west.

This story first appeared in the January 14, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In a groundbreaking move, the luxury goods house said it plans to open two new design and research offices in Paris and Hong Kong, the first outside company headquarters here. The offices will be complementary to and coordinated by the Milan base and are expected to be up and running within the first half.

The company said the openings are in line with international development of its brands and will help it approach creativity in a new manner.

“Gruppo Prada believe that research must represent cultural integration and the synthesis of a real intellectual collaboration between different worlds,” the firm said. “To obtain this, it is necessary to create a real network from which to draw and acquire ideas, innovative cues and new resources in all fields, including that of technological advancement.”

The offices will help stimulate and promote new international resources, while also consolidating Prada’s presence in two important cities at both the design and business levels, said the company.

“This is a very intelligent and innovative way of thinking,” said a Milan-based luxury goods consultant, who requested anonymity. “Automakers and phone companies have research and design centers around the world, why shouldn’t fashion? Also, it’s one thing to have a team living in Asia, for example, with a different approach and way of thinking, and a totally different thing to have employees based in Milan who travel to Asia.”

The source also noted Prada has always invested heavily in its design team and in shaping new talent. Several designers flourished during their time at the company and went on to succeed in the industry, including Yves Saint Laurent creative director Stefano Pilati, who was Miuccia Prada’s assistant designer at Miu Miu; Neil Barrett, who today designs his own line; Yvan Mispelaere, now creative director at Diane von Furstenberg; Rodolfo Paglialunga, now creative director at Vionnet, and former Gucci and Valentino creative director Alessandra Facchinetti.

While the Hong Kong office “obviously signals a strong attention to Asia,” said the source, the reason for a base in Paris is less transparent. “Either [Miuccia Prada and her husband Patrizio Bertelli] found the right person to head the team there, or, given that Miu Miu shows in Paris, they may want to further differentiate it from the signature line,” he speculated.

Armando Branchini, vice president of Milan-based consulting firm InterCorporate, also applauded the project. “It’s a very positive move: it’s so important to have antennae on the market,” he said. “These new design offices will allow Prada to be more in touch with local aesthetics and culture. Globalization does not mean homogenization, but the ability to take into account and enhance cultural and aesthetic diversity.”

The analyst also said the choice of Hong Kong was a nod to the firm’s possible IPO. Speculation has been mounting that Prada might be considering a listing in Hong Kong, as the Italian firm capitalizes on growing revenues in the Asia-Pacific region. That market showed a 51 percent surge in sales in the first nine months of 2010. In particular, China is the area that is developing at the quickest pace for the company, which intends to open 17 stores there next year and another 11 in 2012. As reported, Prada is planning a fashion show in Beijing on Jan. 22 to make a statement in China.

Regarding the timing of the IPO, Prada said in November that it will likely take place in the second half of 2011, depending on market conditions. The company canceled plans for a listing several times over the past few years. A location has not been confirmed.

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