Backstage at Prada Resort 2019

When it comes to cruise, Miuccia Prada hasn’t given into wanderlust — until now. While for years her major luxury competitors have embraced the itinerant way, showing their collections in mega-statement shows in locales both far-flung and, this season, close to home, Prada long opted for a more low-key method, teasing her women’s resort as part of her June men’s show in Milan. Last year signaled a change of perspective when she staged a separate show and dinner at Fondazione Prada. Now, she’s all in on the high-profile approach. On Friday, she showed her collection — a brilliant treatise on how to make commercial compelling — at the brand’s New York “home” on 52nd Street overlooking the Hudson River, followed by a dinner for 200 guests. “Everybody is doing more, and so you have to adapt,” she said.

Earlier in the day, Prada sat down with WWD. The conversation wended through fashion fantasy and reality, coed shows, political correctness and her upcoming date with an archbishop.

WWD: Let’s start with the show. Why a big show, and why New York?

Miuccia Prada:  First of all, because it’s a long time since we’ve done anything in New York. And because for this kind of cruise show, everybody tries to do something that is not the usual space, so we decided to first use our homes…We restored [this building] around 15 years ago, so we decided to do it here…The last floor is empty, and there we have the show and the dinner.

Backstage at Prada Resort 2019

Backstage at Prada Resort 2019  Kelly Taub/WWD

WWD: You haven’t traditionally done big cruise shows. But last year, a big event in Milan. And now this.

M.P.: Yes. Because everybody is doing more, and so you have to adapt, more or less. The effort for doing a presentation is the same as doing a show. With a show, you work better, you are challenging yourself a bit more. So it’s very useful. Because at the end, [for] all the buying of the rest [of the brand’s offerings], there are references. The show always helps everybody to give, let’s say, a soul.

WWD: Tell me about the theme of the collection.

M.P.:  The theme of tonight…[It] would be like a fantasy and the reality. So something very real, but of course, it’s always a fantasy. It’s my fantasy of what is real for me today. A show is always a fantasy. Last season, the show was really a fantasy, [about] these crazy women going outside and naked but safe in the night and so on. This is more about reality — things that you want to wear, a presentation of the real today, from my point of view. But still, I say it’s a fantasy because it’s not exactly what people wear in the street. It’s different. But it’s simple, not a lot of thought. We tried to make it strong with very simple things — a skirt and a sweater. We tried to make it enough for a show, but…a simplification.

WWD: Would you say examining women’s roles and women’s sensuality is the primary creative focus of your work?

M.P.: The primary [focus] basically is fashion. For sure, with the fashion I always wanted to represent a woman that makes sense for my principles…

I’m very interested in the life of people. That’s what really interests me, so the problems of women, the difficulties of women, the life of poor women, the life of rich women…It comes instinctively. It’s not that I sit down and say, “Now I want to represent the life of [this type of] people.” But of course, you dress a woman, you think about the woman, so you think about lives from different angles. Sometimes it’s the rich, sometimes it’s the poor. Sometimes it’s very much mixed because anytime I like [something], I also like just the opposite, which is probably one of my quintessential characteristics.

WWD: The opposition?

M.P.: Yes, yes.

WWD: Are you concerned about the cultural appropriation issue? Do you ever hold back on a reference you’d like to explore because of possible social media reaction?

M.P.: I’m not reading social media. Of course, I know what happens…I am not afraid of comments. I believe in what I do, so somebody likes it, somebody doesn’t like it, and it’s not that that worries me.

WWD: Does the idea of creative people potentially holding back on their ideas concern you?

M.P.:  That is an ongoing problem that occupies my thoughts a lot, also in art. At the Fondazione, we just did a show about that [“Post Zang Tumb Tuuum. Art Life Politics: Italia 1918–1943,” running through June 25th].

[At a related event], I spoke very openly about this subject, more for art than for fashion, but more or less, it’s the same. You have to be careful not to offend anybody…[There’s] so much political correctness, politically correct issues, that those are limiting, that’s for sure. I see kind of a natural consequence of the globalization of the communication. For instance, before, if I had an interview with [WWD], I talk to you in a way that I know you understand. But now I don’t talk only to you. The moment I talk to you…in fact, [I] talk to everybody because the next day it can be everywhere. And that’s very difficult…you have to be so careful that you [risk saying] nothing…

So everything [then exists] in this kind of a superficiality where nothing goes deep.

WWD: And that’s sad.

M.P.: Yes, very. I think that we have to create a secret society, because I am really afraid that if you are not free to express and to say things that maybe are not [politically] correct, the thoughts don’t progress…You don’t do anything new, you don’t say anything interesting.

WWD: And how does the culture progress?

M.P.: Actually this is the big problem of today. At Fondazione Prada, we had an installation of Damien Hirst with the flies [“Waiting for Inspiration,” 1994, in the “Atlas” show]. The next day, the Protection of Animals said that you are killing flies. So even art, even places where you should be free to express ideas and thoughts, it’s difficult.

WWD: As one of fashion’s genuine great creators, how do you deal with that?

M.P.: Thank you.

WWD: Seriously, how do you deal with it?

M.P.: It’s my biggest problem. Because of course, I tend to be thoughtful, sophisticated and so on. And after, I try to simplify and simplify and simplify, because people dedicate a span of attention of one second. And the problem is, until which point you can simplify without becoming empty of content?

Very often…you try to express in a few words months of thinking, months of reading, months of experience, and at a certain point, you can’t simplify too much…

But I know that this is the common problem of more or less everybody. And you see it in politics, the politics is reduced to a hashtag. The complex [issues] of the world, the complex [issues] of the people are so huge; how can you synthesize that into words in two seconds of a span of attention? But this is the problem of now.

WWD: In general, what do you think of the current state of fashion? Do you think that fashion is in a good place or a not so good place?

M.P.: I think that it’s part of everything else. Because when fashion was part of a small group of sophisticated people you could exaggerate. You knew that you were talking to mainly rich Western, either American or European, people. And you knew to whom you were talking. Now, of course, myself, I am interested in a bigger world. Because to do things for [only] a few people today wouldn’t be so exciting. But again, try to be yourself, to express what you think…

It’s difficult, probably, for everybody. Because everybody that has a company, of course you have to sell. And also what is very interesting, the simplification, less and less stuff is sellable. If sneakers [are hot], only sneakers, if jeans, only jeans. So the simplification, it’s incredible, and everybody sells the same thing. Which is kind of scary because you want to do more.

WWD: Do you think the streetwear fascination is waning a little bit or will continue?

M.P.: In fashion, nothing continues. So I don’t know. Street is so, so vast. It is also difficult, it’s not even jeans and sneakers. Also there are so many different kinds of people. So at a certain point, everybody is looking only at a genre. Next year it’s over. The world is complicated, so you have to go [with] your feelings, basically.

WWD: Whom do you pay attention to in fashion?

M.P.: Competitors? I have a few that I like. But I don’t want to talk about it.

WWD: Are you constantly aware of competition?

M.P.: Absolutely.

WWD: Is it more creative competition or business competition?

M.P.: I think that competition is huge, also copying is huge. Somebody does something good and after six months everybody has it, identical. And so no one is surprised.

WWD: I read somewhere that you said you don’t really care if somebody copies you. Have you changed your mind on that?

M.P.: I think that is so totally inevitable. But I was not thinking particularly of people copying me, but that [when something is successful], everybody wants to do the same. And there is too much copying.

WWD: Are you always pushing to stay one step ahead?

M.P.: I would like to be one step forward, yes, absolutely. I try to be curious, I try to be better. Anyway, I care. Mostly because it’s the reason that we have a job — for fashion to move forward. Sometimes, actually, people accuse us of changing too much. But I really get bored very, very quickly. It’s funny, because I was fixated on a certain genre of girl, and at midnight last night [while finalizing the casting] I said, “You know what?”…

The [type of] girl that I asked to see one month ago, that I was fixated with for one year, last night I realized that I was completely fed up. And we laughed so much.

WWD: Will you tell me what genre of girl that was?

M.P.: No, no, no, no.

WWD: Speaking of which, diversity on the runway.

M.P.: I think it’s the only thing that excites me, really. Because that is new. It’s two or three seasons that I’m really interested, and looking at beauty with a different eye. So that is definitely a progress I did with myself. I really enjoy beauty of different races and different characters. It’s the part that now interests me most.

WWD: Beyond race and character type, how do you feel about diversity of age and size on the runway?

M.P.: In theory, I would do it. Actually, in my first show [fall 1989], I had all [different] women, young girls, and an older woman, Benedetta Barzini. Maybe back then I thought she was very old. She was probably only 45.

WWD: Our perspectives change.

M.P.: So in theory, I like it. But after so many other people have done it, I don’t want to do it. But in principle, I agree.

WWD: What about size diversity?

M.P.: Size diversity, again, in theory I accept, but so far I didn’t have really the courage to do it. Also…the subject is very trendy now. And that I don’t like so much. I don’t want to do it for those reasons…

WWD: It seems that it’s a little bit of a gimmick, putting one really curvy girl on the runway.

M..P: It’s a joke. It’s just to pretend to be good. It’s pretentious.

WWD: Typically, it’s only one curvy girl.

M.P.: Exactly. I think it’s hypocritical. I accept maybe some designers that really go for that. Otherwise, you try to be politically correct. It’s the sentiment I have for fur. To pretend that we are not companies that deal with rich people — you can’t pretend to be really popular, because at the end you do rich stuff for rich people. And so you can do it until a certain point. Otherwise it becomes pretentious and hypocritical.

WWD: Thank you for commenting for our fur story. It was so important to have your voice. It’s such a complicated issue.

M.P.: I know. They’re all good issues, but some serious issues [are difficult to address] from a fashion point of view. Actually, [earlier] in my life, I tried to be political in the system of fashion. And after we did Fondazione Prada, I am political in a political [sense].

For instance, we did [address] exactly the subject of living under a regime. It’s a fantastic show that talks about the men, women artist as a person under a regime.

WWD: The “Art Life Politics” show?

M.P.: Yes. If [it] mentioned the word fascism or a regime, [no one would] give us the paintings and the loans. [The point] was to see how an artist behaves under a regime. And I think that now we are somehow under a regime…This thing that you have to be careful with everything — I think we live kind of under a regime.

But what I can say as a fashion designer? I never want to talk about politics…As a fashion designer, I can’t be political because you are not believable. Because still you say, I am a rich fashion designer and so, I chose a job, that is the opposite of something that I think and I believe.

So my life is kind of split in two, but in a way that now I enjoy. Because I think that the experience I can do in the world of business and fashion can help the other one and vise versa. That’s why, for instance, I never wanted to do any collaboration with artists. Can you imagine? They are all my friends, the artists saying, “Why don’t we do that together?” I said no. I refuse to work with artists in the fashion world.

WWD: Why?

M.P.: At the beginning…I didn’t want to take advantage of the fame of the others…I wanted to be good by myself and I didn’t want to take advantage of the others. And [now], it’s been done so much — It’s not that I am right, but at some point I decided not to do it. So for the moment, I go on.

WWD: Do you think that the fashion-art collaborations have gotten out of hand?  Everybody does them.

M.P.:  You know, the collaboration is a long story…First, I was a little bit lazy and after, I didn’t understand the reason, because when I think about collaboration, I think about some serious job to do more. But now collaborations are the easiest way to sell…At the end, I realize that most of the collaborations are just done for money.

And actually, my life goes beyond making money. So thank God, I and my husband and the company, of course we have to make money because we have a company and we have responsibilities. But it’s not that I wake up in the morning thinking, “How can I make money?” That is the last of our problems.

WWD: Will you continue to do a major resort show every year?

M.P.: I am afraid I am obliged. In the company, they don’t want it. But I think that everybody does it and if you can do it…

Also now, because there are so many [shows] to do, in my mind, I treat them like chapters. So when you have to do a [single] fashion show for a season, I mean, you have to have really very good ideas, it has to be more bold. But if you consider that now there are more [shows], you can do small chapters. And then from this perspective, it’s easier…I consider it like a work in progress.

WWD: You’re not showing any men’s tonight, are you?

M.P.: There is one man.

WWD: One? What’s his role?

M.P.: So basically because he is the boyfriend of one girl. And I said, “But why should we show one boy?” And [then] I said, “OK, let’s do it.”

WWD: I love that.

M.P.: It’s a nonsense thing.

WWD: Where does he come in the run of show?

M..P:  We are deciding now. But dressed masculine, dressed like a man.

WWD: No gender fluidity?

M.P.: That is another argument that — it’s very trendy.

WWD: What is your opinion on that?

M.P.: I think that people do whatever they want. But again, I don’t like when people use these issues [to elevate] themselves: “I am so good because I did this.” I think that when a subject is very serious, it’s better you shut up. I don’t know.

WWD: That’s interesting.

M.P.: When you are seriously political, you have to go so far that, probably in your job [as a fashion designer], you can’t because you are not a politician. You have a company that mainly sells to rich people, so how can you be so political?…You can only suggest.

WWD: Coed shows — you used to show women’s resort in your men’s show in June. Can you see yourself doing a major coed show for spring or fall?

M.P.: Again, I like to do the opposite of what others are doing. So I decide that now I do the men’s show…And also, because the men’s business is important for us. I do a fashion show for men, and I’m really dedicated to it. When we put women in the men’s show, men’s journalists complained that the women took away the attention from the men. And I thought it was kind of true.

WWD: You have your show tonight, the Met Gala on Monday. What will you do over the weekend in New York?

M.P.: A few interviews, go see a few exhibitions.

WWD: Frieze?

M.P.: No.

WWD: Which exhibitions?

M.P.: They told me that there is a very good one at the Whitney. And I have to see an artist for preparation of an exhibition [at Fondazione Prada] next year.

WWD: What are you expecting from “The Catholic Imagination” at the Met?

M.P.: About the religion? I am curious to see. I know that it’s very interesting that the Church decided to lend. And by coincidence, the Archbishop of Milano, he wants to see me, because probably, he wants to know about fashion.

WWD: He wants to see you?

M.P.: In Milan. He knew that the Church gave clothes to the Met for a fashion exhibition, so probably they think that fashion is something interesting.

WWD: Have you set a date?

M.P.: Not yet. But I am so curious. As soon as I go back, I will meet him.

WWD: It’s intriguing.

M.P.: Of course, the Church has the problem to be connected with reality…I am not religious anymore. I was educated in religion, but…

WWD: On that note, and before you make plans with the Archbishop, you’ve got a show to do. So I will take my leave.

M.P.: Yes. Excuse me. I have a function in two hours. 

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