Women Fashion Designers: Miuccia Prada

SPEAKING FREELY: Miuccia Prada is one of fashion’s most intense and thought-provoking designers. She challenges herself, surrounded by artists and intellectuals and, during interviews, ponders the answers and often throws in more of her own questions. On Sunday, ahead of her fall men’s show in Milan, the designer candidly approached the subject of cultural appropriation and freedom of speech — and of thought — clearly issues that have been top-of-mind after recent accusations of racism against the brand, which her company has vehemently denied.

In December, Prada faced online accusations that animal-like figurines and charms in its stores and windows evoked blackface. The group subsequently issued a statement saying it “abhors racist imagery” and vowed to withdraw the items from “display and circulation,” while explaining that the figures are “fantasy charms composed of elements of the Prada oeuvre” and known as Pradamalia. The brand nonetheless pledged to improve its “diversity training.”

“I increasingly think anything one does today can cause offense,” Miuccia Prada said Sunday, speaking in soft tones, at the headquarters of the cultural Fondazione Prada. “There can sometimes be a lack of generosity but, on the other hand, how can we know all cultures? The Chinese protest, then the Sikh, then Mexicans, then Afro-Americans. But how can you know the details of each single culture so well when there can be 100 different cultures in every country?”

She went on to talk about how “people want respect because now there is talk of cultural appropriation, but this is the foundation of fashion, as it has always been the basis of art, of everything.”

This has led Prada to ask herself, when she is readying a collection and a show, “Am I offending someone?” What she sees as a provocation, “could it be read as an offense?”

“Those who are offended are offended, so I don’t know how we can solve this problem. Surely, I feel like not saying anything, not doing anything, so I don’t have any problem. Because then the famous web hate is massive.”

Prada sees this “problem of lack of freedom” at this moment as fundamental. “I talked about it with the Fondazione [Prada], with the intellectuals, it really is a problem — one would have to set up ‘secret societies’ — otherwise there is no progressive thinking. If you are not free to say things that may also not be correct and you have to be careful every time you open your mouth, how can you talk with freedom of thought? This really is a turning point. The world is bigger and I understand this and I also understand that people finally have a voice and speak up.”