The Rise of Prada

Muireann Treasa Guinee chronicles the rise of Prada, a household name in luxury fashion, from its beginnings in WW1 Milan to its current standing as a leading global player in the fashion industry.

Prada’s rise to fame is a tale of daring contradiction and unapologetic high standards. Over the years, it has solidified its grasp on the fashion industry with highly-intellectualised fashion and much sought-after accessories. 

For a globally successful brand, Prada’s roots are humble. Tucked away in Milan during World War I, an unsuspecting Mario Prada opened the first Prada leather goods store. His aim was to sell high quality luggage to the city’s public, without the high fashion identity we have come to associate with it. 

One wonders could he have foreseen the success his small leather business would eventually achieve. Mario’s son intended to leave the family business to his first son, but he did not want it, and nor did his brother. So, in 1978, Miuccia Bianchi Prada took over her grandfather’s legacy, and Prada as we know it today was born.

The brand’s success was not immediate. The aesthetic was stark in an era in which maximalism prevailed. Mrs. Prada’s style advocated austere cuts, unlikely colour contrasts and a distinctive military tone. Non-conformist and understated, she rejected overtly sexy or glamorous clothes. Her work stood in cold contrast to the playfulness of the eighties.

However, Miuccia believed in her brand and the quality of her products. A champion of individualism, she claims that great style cannot be appealing to everyone.

In 1985, Prada entered into fashion consciousness with the introduction of the nylon backpack, stylish yet practical, made from versatile fabric. Simple, elegant and distinctive, the new bag became an overnight success. Embellished solely with the company’s inverted triangle, the logo became synonymous with taste. Following their initial success, Prada bags carried on to become the ‘It’ bags of the nineties. 

Undoubtedly, the brand’s long history of creating luxury goods was instrumental in launching Prada into fashion’s hall of fame and public consciousness. In the 2000s, the accessories were brandished proudly on the arms of style icons such Kate Moss and the Olsen twins.

However, it was in 1989 that she truly began to make waves with the introduction of a women’s ready-to-wear clothes that she dubbed ‘uniforms for the slightly disenfranchised.’ This was followed by the launch of Prada’s sister brand Miu Miu, and a Prada menswear line in 1993. 

From then, the Prada brand was recognisable the world over. However, though world-renowned, the brand certainly did not become a luxury most households could afford. Love or loathe Prada, wealth has always been at the centre of the brand’s success. Prada is not for the masses, but has remained the fascination of the elite. 

In the Washington Post in 1996, Robin Givhan describes such style exclusivity: ‘They affect poverty – expensively – and wear it like a badge of intellectual chic.’ Prada, she suggests, is the epitome of this trend. Unlike the overt femininity of Chanel or Dolce & Gabbana, Prada’s clothes may be described as esoteric, ‘ugly chic’ or indeed inaccessible. This however, has never stolen from the brand’s allure. It has only increased its intrigue for those who can afford it. 

Despite a history of financial highs and lows, today Prada is a multi-billion dollar empire. This year, having failed to achieve profit equal to those of the previous decade, the company has explored new avenues to maintain its place as a leading luxury house, all the while responding to the whims of a 21st century customer. Prada celebrates individuality at its core, and an ability to adapt. It is safe to say that this aptitude for change, combined with such highbrow allure and compelling design will secure Prada’s place in the closets of the wealthy and powerful.