In a surprise announcement yesterday, Prada unveiled that Raf Simons will join the house as co-creative director, working on both the men's and women's collection, alongside Miuccia Prada. Their first joint collection will be the spring/summer 2021 women's collection that will be shown in Milan this September.
In the history of power moves in the fashion industry, there may never be another quite like this. However, the idea of two designers sharing the responsibility of a fashion house isn't novel. Take, for example, Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri's revival of Valentino; Karl Lagerfeld and Silvia Venturini Fendi upholding the legacy of the Fendi house; and, lest we forget, Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler co-designing for the Westwood label. In the pursuit of great design, two heads can be better than one.
But in the examples above, it's usually the combination of two relatively unknown names, or it's an established designer who mentors and co-creates with a younger designer. What sets the Simons and Mrs Prada partnership apart is that these two designers are both highly respected, influential, and at the height of their prowess.
And it is not just the aesthetics of the garments they send out, but the messaging behind their pieces that draws you in with a deeper subliminal appeal. Both are masters at blending their love of culture and art into their work, as well as using fashion as a commentary on the world at large. Both have also collaborated with artists in their work: Mrs Prada famously worked with Christophe Chemin for her autumn/winter 2016 collection while Simons has a long-standing partnership with Sterling Ruby that started during his tenure at Christian Dior and continued when he was the chief creative officer of Calvin Klein.
Both Mrs Prada and Simons also share an immense passion for interior design. Simons famously began his career as an industrial designer, before an internship with Walter Van Beirendonck altered his career trajectory. Later, during his time at Calvin Klein, Simons returned to his roots, working with Italian artisans to produce furniture at Art Basel 2018. Similarly, Mrs Prada has worked with her friend and architect Rem Koolhaas to turn a former distillery in Milan into the Fondazione Prada that we know today.
But more than their common ground, it is their differences that makes them a formidable team. Simons is a romantic when it comes to his creative process—much of his work is a love letter to his inspirations from his teenage years; inspirations that are updated for the future. On the other hand, Mrs Prada likes to subvert the norm. For example, she put a twist on the trend of oversized sportswear in her spring/summer 2019 collection but taking sporting uniforms from the 60s, and reimagining them with technical future-forward fabrics.
Ultimately, what makes this merger exciting is how both designers are ardent creatives at heart. Yes, fashion is a business, but both are known for their fierce protection of the creative narrative they insert season after season.
In an interview with fashion critic, Alexander Fury, Simons said, "when you read a fashion review, they often judge a designer's collection from an economic point of view. I find this very frustrating for everybody, and I don't think it's right. Sometimes I see a very shitty collection. Yet, it is praised just because the brand's business is going very well."
As much as Prada's runway collections have journalists going bonkers each season, the business side in recent years has not caught up with the acclaim. Likewise, Simons was let go at Calvin Klein for failing to adequately translate his well-received runway offerings into the expected commercial dollars. So what does the future hold for the Prada and Simons pairing? Will two creatives who share a similar wave-length prove to be a recipe for qualitative and quantitative success? Well, if the reaction from fashion pundits is anything to go by, it's destined to be a winner.
In the press conference to announce his induction into the Prada family, Simons said, “Prada is a brand that I have been interested in my whole life. I cannot wait to express to all of you the dialogue I will have with Mrs Prada and her team.” He adds, "Miuccia and I had a conversation about creativity in today’s fashion system. And it brought me to open dialogue with many designers, not just Mrs Prada. We have to re-look at how creativity can evolve in today’s fashion system.”
If there is any concern about the clash of creative differences between the two, the pair gave an interview to System magazine in 2016, in which Prada said, "I have to say one thing about Raf: sometimes I think I have had a fantastic idea, and Olivier, who works with me and Fabio on shows and knows Raf’s work so well, says to me, ‘Miuccia, Raf already did that before’."
In that same interview, Simons actually proposed a collaboration of sorts: "For me, I would be excited if Miuccia would do the Raf Simons brand for a season, and then I would do a season for Marc Jacobs in New York, and Marc would do Prada; I think the audience would be totally excited by that."
Naturally, there will be speculations that Simons is poised to take over the reins when Mrs Prada decides to retire, but I doubt that would happen anytime soon. If anything, the move would inspire both of them to keep designing for many more years. It is unique opportunity to work with a fellow creative who shares your interests and yet is still able to introduce and propose new ideas and points of view.
That mutual appreciation between Mrs Prada and Simons allows them to both openly present their ideas, and challenge the conventional approach to commerce, both in retail and online. One might argue that their ultra-nuanced, and intelligent work is the equivalent of watching a movie that requires subtitles. But in an era where a South Korean film just won the best picture at the Academy Awards, I say that the world is ready for a new fashion design duo.
For all the flak thatMrs Prada gets for not utilising the full potential of collaborations (as well as the rumoured turning down of Supreme's request to work with them, leading to the eventual collab with Louis Vuitton), she just pulled off the greatest team-up of all time.