The Mythology of Prada


Instagram: @prada

In Shanghai, the Pradasphere II exhibition decoded the iconic brand’s stunning style contradictions.

This past winter, for just over a month, the whole of Prada was on display. The Pradasphere II exhibition, held at the Start Museum in Shanghai, presented more than 400 artifacts—gathered from the label’s inception in 1913 to the present day—that served as an archaeological explainer of Prada’s ongoing resonance and cultural reverberation. The first iteration of Pradasphere debuted in London in 2014, but of course a lot has happened since then.

Chief among the changes has been the addition of Raf Simons as co-creative director of Prada in the spring of 2020. Though the Shanghai exhibition was curated by both Miuccia Prada and Simons, it was he who chose the 200 looks that were stationed within the main corridor. For fashion enthusiasts, including Simons, who has admitted to being a longtime fan of the label prior to his appointment, it was a heartfelt journey down memory lane, where the gray uniformity of spring/summer 2001, the unbridled fantasies of spring/summer 2008, and the banana prints of spring/ summer 2011 sat alongside pieces reaching back to Prada’s first ready-to-wear collection from 1988.

There were also white poplin shirts and dark skirts that evoked the buttoned-up restraint of school uniforms—a nod to Mrs. Prada’s determination to elevate the banal in her work. “Ugly is attractive, ugly is exciting,” she has famously said.

The presence of the skirt was intentional. It is the garment that Mrs. Prada has always chosen to examine the female psyche and perceived power dynamics. It is her canvas to challenge conformity with subversion and wit. And the choice of garment goes beyond the stylized: Mrs. Prada has expressed in the past that she has focused on the piece because the bottom half of the female body is about birth and sexuality.

With that in mind, the central atrium was dedicated to a section called Materiality, which featured 20 skirts specially crafted for the exhibition. The pieces showcased the house’s experimental approach to fabrication, utilizing materials from past collections—a cloqué fabric of silk and wool with a black-to-green sfumato gradient, technical fabric printed with a tweed pattern, black sequins, and feathers sprouting over orange mohair.

The genius of Prada ultimately lies in how seamlessly high-brow and low-brow aesthetics often converge within the work. At Pradasphere II artworks by Damien Hirst and Andreas Gursky featured in a set created in conjunction with the design studio 2×4, with harder industrial shelving intentionally juxtaposed with a backdrop of pink velvet.

The label is going through a generational transition, and sections of the exhibition pointed to new initiatives and product lines. A nod toward the future if you will. Nylon—the fabric that put Prada on the map—has remained a constant through the years, and an entire room was dedicated to Re-Nylon, launched in 2019 by Lorenzo Bertelli (Mrs. Prada’s older son and the company’s heir apparent) and crafted entirely from recycled fibers. Other rooms highlighted Prada’s sailing syndicate, Luna Rossa, and the leisurewear line, Linea Rossa, that it spawned (relaunched in 2018), demonstrating the dominance of sportswear and lifestyle in today’s fashion industry.

Notably, it has been Simons’s creative voice in the Prada mix that has helped to shape the new explorations of familiar silhouettes and tropes. Looks from the latest seasons explored the complexities of ideas surrounding uniforms, femininity and masculinity, and extreme beauty blended with extreme reality. As they continue to join forces as arguably the most influential duo to collaborate within the fashion realm, we look to Mrs. Prada and Simons to keep stoking our appreciation for the label.


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