A COMPANY ON THE RISE, DEALING WITH THE VULTURES.
Byline: Sara Gay Forden, February 1996
Miuccia Prada is fed up with “vultures.”
“We are experiencing an incredible attack from people who want to know what we are doing,” said Prada, her voice rising angrily. “They hang around our fabric mills, they want to see out prototypes — it’s really becoming unbearable.”
Perhaps that’s the price of success. In just a few years, Prada has catapulted itself from a little-known upstart on the Milan fashion scene to a major international player. There was a time, not so long ago, when fashion editors grumbled about Prada’s early-morning show times and crowded show hall. One season, a pack of photographers even stormed out of the hall and refused to shoot the show due to the cramped quarters. Those days are no more. Now, Prada is one of the hottest tickets in Milan, a must-see show that no one would dream of walking out on.
Prada has managed to cleverly recruit some of the world’s top stylists to help keep the show’s — and the line’s — buzz going, and for the last several seasons, the brand’s influence has spread far and wide through the fashion system. No sooner have the collections hit the catwalks than factories around the world are gearing up with knockoffs….
What’s the secret of Prada’s success?
The obvious answer is the combined talents of the Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli husband-and-wife team. With their mix of fashion and business sense, they have put together in just a few years a set of companies that last year boasted aggregate sales of $438 million (700 billion lire), up more than 70 percent over 1994. Of total sales, some 78 percent is derived from exports, with markets pretty evenly divided among the Far East, Europe and the U.S.
To their partnership, Prada brought her family business, Prada SpA, which was founded by her grandfather in 1913. Bertelli came with his Arezzo-based manufacturing company, I Pellettieri d’Italia, and his own line of Granello fine shoes and bags.
Their combined forces have been explosive — as is their highly charged working style. Each is opinionated and dynamic, and when they disagree, sparks fly. Still, these two, who are practically impossible to get sitting in the same room at the same time, generate an atmosphere of constructive conflict that fuels their accomplishments….
While Prada makes headlines for her fashion sense, Bertelli is a man who likes to think big. A down-to-earth Tuscan, he is putting together an industrial and commercial expansion plan for Prada of some $100 million over the next three years. The program includes opening a handbag factory in Florence with some 100 employees, building a new centralized shipping warehouse in Arezzo and opening more stores around the world. Prada currently has 58 stores globally, plus corner shops in department stores….
“Things have become so frenetic that it gets difficult,” she said. “My fashion comes from inside me, it’s an intuitive thing. I have to wait to see what I get tired of and what I want to put on next.”
Still, each season, Prada manages to hit new notes, and she is particularly satisfied with her spring-summer collection, which she herself branded the ultimate in “bad taste,” for its unusual color palette and odd print combinations.
“Whoever said that to be chic you have to dress in that [traditional] way? For me, my last show was the chicest collection I’ve ever done,” she said. “It has opened up a whole new path of possibilities for future work. We’re nearing the end of the century, and for so long, we have been living in the past. Maybe we are finally reaching the changeover.”