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Prada

bertelli miuccia leather company

Award: CFDA Award, 1993

In 1913 Mario Prada founded Fratelli Prada, a leather-goods company which produced what the Italians call oggetti di lusso , objects of luxury, becoming best known for a very expensive leather travel case fitted with crystal vessels. His granddaughter, Miuccia, inherited the company and reluctantly took it over in 1978, at first conflicted about becoming a designer, regarding it as “women’s work.” She had planned to use her degree in political science and her interest in social issues to do something she considered “intellectual.” As it turned out, she was able to combine her personal convictions with her love of beautiful things—antique fabrics, fine workmanship, and modern art—and become one of the most successful designers of the late twentieth century.

The Prada collections, including secondary line Miu Miu, are all the reflections of Miuccia Prada’s own taste and her efforts to create clothing that is not intended for the woman who wants to look like a particular type: a socialite, sexpot, or career woman. Rather, she designs pieces that encourage freedom from what others think and the flexibility to change one’s look from moment to moment. Her menswear, shoes, and bags also express her love of combining opposites, like past and present, to create looks that are both new and different—almost kitsch. With one black nylon backpack, she transformed the family leather-goods company into a producer and purveyor of the most coveted, well-made, and unconventional products of the 1990s, from dresses adorned with celluloid strips to outre shoes nominated several times for “worst of the year” status.

Many have tried to define exactly why Prada clothing and accessories were among the most coveted items of the 1990s. Is it the combination of technological fabrics and retro silhouettes, the contrast between feminine touches—like transparency and embroidery and industrial shapes—or the melding of what was and what is next? Of course, there is no single answer, but Miuccia Prada and her husband/partner, Patrizio Bertelli, have made owning anything bearing the Prada label a statement of both status and spirit.

In 1999 Patrizio Bertelli arranged the acquisition of Jil Sander, the twenty-year old German fashion house, in an effort to build a new European luxury goods group. Five months later, due to often reported disputes between Bertelli and founder Jil Sander, she resigned from her position as chief designer, causing a tremendous stir in the fashion world. As of this writing, Prada’s plans for its new division are not known.

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