IBM was the leading computer company from the mid-60s through the early 80s, but they were overtaken by smarter companies with new ideas, building on the innovation that IBM had brought to the table. The same can be said with Ford Motors. There are countless examples of industry giants drastically falling behind, yet in fashion, people cling to and revere ancient brands like Gucci and Lanvin, the same brands that were around during the Ford or IBM days. In the long term, we the consumers are far better off when brands compete and adapt, because it results in more clothing for us to choose from and encourages the brands to work as hard as they can for our patronage. The majority of the major fashion houses have recently taken steps to breathe new life into their companies and extend their relevance. In the past fifteen years, one of the most popular avenues has been to hire Raf Simons. Raf Simons was one of the first designers on a top tier level who especially connected with young consumers, so he was brought in by Jil Sander and Dior in 2005 and 2012 respectively. There is no doubt they experienced growth and renewed interest during this time period, but by the end of his tenure at Dior in 2015, Raf wasn’t the young newcomer he once was in the industry. He was picked up by Calvin Klein as Chief Creative Officer, but nothing consequential came from the posting and he left at the end of 2019.
Simultaneously, at the beginning of the 2000s, Prada was struggling. Their aspirations of becoming a conglomerate in line with LVMH were dying, as they were forced to sell off their stake in Fendi and their controlling shares of Jil Sander and Helmut Lang. After a decade of decline, they slowly began to claw their way back, and in 2018 their sales increased for the first time in four years. This can heavily be attributed to their clothes being sold online for the first time only in 2016. Something that had been normalized for years by their peers in the fashion industry took them far longer to take advantage of. Why? The leadership behind Prada has long been questioned. Miuccia Prada and her business partner and husband Patrizio Bertelli are in their seventies, and together own eighty percent of the brand. It’s clear that with age, the world has moved on past what they can offer, so it only made sense for them to bring in more relevant talent.
Enter Raf Simons, who, with Miuccia, recently showed the first collection that the duo acted as co-creative directors for. Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons spoke about how they were emotionally stronger while designing together because they could trust one another, and didn’t have to rely on themselves for everything. Having had so much combined exposure to the industry, between Miuccia’s many many years of heading a massive house, and Raf’s experience designing successfully across multiple brands, their combined knowledge is substantial. When the pandemic happened and lockdown was put in place, their plans for their first collection were likely thrown out the window like everyone else’s, but when it was finally shown, it came with a video of the pair discussing what they learned by working together, and Miuccia said “I realized how important technology is and how it’s impactful for us and in some ways, kind of an extension of ourselves”
It made sense for Prada to be headed by one person when it consisted of a handful of people. When Mario Prada started his leather goods business in 1913 it was a single store and was run exclusively by him and his brother. Prada did not open a second location until 1983, also in Italy. But as the brand grew over the decades, and as Luisa and then Miuccia took charge, responsibility was offloaded to more and more people. There are now 641 Prada locations worldwide, and what was once a family-run storefront is now a Fashion house consisting of over 13,000 employees. The exponential growth of Prada was something Miuccia was clearly not ready to fully handle and take advantage of financially or artistically. A brand of this magnitude, covering everything from menswear to womenswear to footwear to eyewear, should not be run under a single person’s vision. Now that upper management is diversifying, there is room for options and creativity that didn’t exist in years past. The Jeff Goldblum wearing a banana print shirt era of Prada is thankfully over, and the brand is moving on to more subdued garments more akin to what they have always stood for, informed by this new style of management with their co-creative directors.
While many other tired brands emphasize phrases like “our storied history” or “x amount of years making blah blah blah” Prada is finally showing growth. Age is not necessarily a sign of wisdom, as shown by Miuccia’s leadership, and if a brand has been following a similar pattern for an extended period of time, perhaps they’ve become complacent with their position. Prada is an excellent example of a necessary adaptation. This period of change after years of stagnation was expected in my eyes, as Miuccia and Patrizio, to be candid, are nearing the end of their lives. The tradition of keeping the brand helmed within the family is likely going to end with Miuccia, so likely we will see Raf take more and more responsibility within the company, and continue to diversify the artistic team behind the House. This is a long-needed new chapter for Prada, one that could finally bring the brand deservingly back on top after all these years.