By the time you read this article, you would have seen it all over the news: Raf Simons is joining Prada as co-creative director. No, Raf Simons (the eponymous label Simons founded in 1995) is not closing down and no, Ms. Prada is not retiring… yet.
As she said so herself in the secret press conference held a couple of days ago during Milan Fashion Week, “Please don’t make me older than I am.”
For die-hard fashionistas, the partnership cannot be more perfect. The Belgian designer has so much in common with Ms. Prada, boasts an unparalleled CV, and has constantly enjoyed critical acclaim throughout his career. Having founded his namesake label in 1995, Simons proceeded to head Jil Sander (owned by Prada, SpA), Dior and then Calvin Klein. He is one of very few designers, if not the only, to have done Italian, French and American fashion.
Having established his career by embracing youth culture, Simons has successfully given brands relevance to a younger market and visual freshness. His background in industrial design has given advantage to his material and technological approach in creating garments, given his romantic leanings. At every house he’s worked at, he has holistically transformed its messaging, introduced new product lines and has brought fantastic aesthetic spins. So what can we expect from this development at Prada?
What, Where, When?
Here are the hard facts: Simons joins Prada effective April 1st. He will work on both its men’s and women’s collection alongside Miuccia Prada and their first joint collection will be the women’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection, which shows in Milan this September. Simons will not take the realms at Miu Miu. His long-term right-hand man, Pieter Mulier, will not be joining him.
How long is this partnership going to last? Take Ms. Prada’s word: “The contract is forever.” Simons has refused to disclose whether he has a stake in the company.
The creative alliance comes after years of rumours that Prada was available for sale, which fueled concern for the brand, alongside the lack of an heir, store closures and less-than-stellar financial figures. The strategic failures, some say, could be attributed to inaccurate pricing structures, the brand’s stubborn and slow digital transition, and overexpansion (it opened more than 200 stores within 3 years).
Lorenzo Bartelli, son of Ms. Prada and business partner and husband Patrizio Bertelli, finally joined the company in 2017 as its marketing and communications director. Since his appointment, Prada, as a brand, is at its strongest. We have seen some great initiatives: Prada Re-Nylon, the resurrection of the popular Linea Rossa line, and the recent Acronyms campaign.
The move with Simons solidifies Prada’s strategy moving forward. No one can deny that Prada has enjoyed critical acclaim more than commercial success — it has still yet to announce a strategic move that will solidify the brand as a business.
Creative, or Commercial?
Simons and Ms. Prada are very similar, creatively speaking. Both are known to be strongly informed by culture, music, film and art; their work utilizes historic appropriations of dress; they openly embrace technology; have done a steady stream of collaborations; and ultimately, their approach to fashion is a cerebral one.
More importantly, business has stood in their way of creativity. Simons famously left Dior and Calvin Klein, brands with strict structures and legacy. Dior wasn’t keen on having its brand messaging transformed to the extent Simons had hoped, and while Calvin Klein initially hired Simons to position itself towards the luxury market, they discarded him as soon as his approach didn’t translate to sales, even despite the hype that he’s generated.
Hopefully, the partnership with Prada solidifies as an unshakeable argument that financial growth cannot be a deciding factor of what makes a good designer, or reason to delegitimize their creativity.
“Miuccia and I had a conversation about creativity in today’s fashion system,” says Simons. “We have to re-look at how creativity can evolve in today’s fashion system.” When it comes to creativity and aesthetic, without a doubt Simons and Prada will be doing interesting things together. But we bet that they will bring change beyond the company, dismantling structural aspects of the industry.
What Simons revealed to Cathy Horyn in an interview on System Magazine says it all. “When you do six shows a year, there’s not enough time for the whole process. Technically, yes — the people who make the samples, do the stitching, they can do it. But you have no incubation time for ideas, and incubation time is very important… That’s never possible when you have only one team working on all the collections.” We can only guess that with two designers, there will be a substantial expansion on the design teams working at Prada.
What Price, Love?
As for customers, one of the first things that come to mind: the price tag. When two titans are in the picture, it’s fair to ask. We all know Prada prices can be astronomical, and last year the brand announced that it will no longer be doing any markdowns.
With Raf entering the picture, Prada’s price points might make more sense. If there’s one thing Raf is amazing at, it’s creating novelty. He’s created the most coveted fashion items: Look at his namesake brand’s Spring/Summer 2017 collection, which utilizes archives from Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, or collaborations with the Andy Warhol Foundation (which Simons did at both Dior and Calvin Klein).
It’s even possible to do Prada homeware or furniture — both Miuccia and Raf Simons are known to be major interior design aficionados.
Ultimately, why we love Prada is because it provokes and tantalizes the desire in us. Simons’ arrival will make us rage all the more for it.