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What Raf Simons joining Prada as co-creative director means for fashion

Co-creative directors are a rarity in an industry that panders to the myth of a single creative force. Prada and Simons said they wanted to issue a “strong challenge to the idea of singularity of creative authorship” and would shoulder “equal responsibilities for creative input and decision-making”.

What Raf Simons joining Prada as co-creative director means for fashion

From April 2020, Raf Simons joined the Prada brand as co-creative director, working in partnership with Miuccia Prada. (Photo: Instagram/Prada)

Raf Simons is to join Miuccia Prada as co-creative director of the Prada label, in a move that the luxury group hopes will reinvigorate interest in the company and attract new generations of high-end shoppers.

The appointment also puts to rest questions of who will succeed Prada, who is in her seventies. It also quells speculation: At the menswear shows in January, the front row was abuzz with talk that Raf Simons would soon be appointed creative director of the men’s collection, Miu Miu, or even the whole shebang.

Like Prada, Simons is widely considered to be one of the industry’s most inventive designers. However, his tenures at both Dior and Calvin Klein were tumultuous, with him exiting the Calvin Klein business nine months before his three-year contract ended.

The Belgian designer, 52, will continue to operate his eponymous men’s label in Antwerp when he joins Prada on April 2. Simons’ and Prada’s first collection will debut at Milan Fashion Week in September.

Last Wednesday’s show, held at the Prada Foundation complex on the second day of Milan Fashion Week, was anticlimactic. At their best, Ms Prada’s collections challenge the conventions of good taste and alter the course of fashion; other times, she serves up saleable clothes and accessories that riff on her greatest hits. 


Her Autumn/Winter collection was the latter, with grey wool blazers and top coats belted over car-wash skirts, sporty sandals strapped over opaque rib-knit tights, and black nylon bags in rich supply. The problem here is that the Prada customer already owns most of these.

The company has been slow to embrace e-commerce and social media, and has struggled to compete with rivals Louis Vuitton and Gucci in the all-important China market.

Prada generated sales of €1.5 billion (S$2.27 billion) in the first half of 2019, up two per cent from the previous year but trailing competitors such as LVMH and Kering. Annual sales declined in 2016 and 2017, recovering slightly in 2018.

At an unexpected press conference at the company’s Milan headquarters on Sunday (February 23), Simons said he had been approached by Patrizio Bertelli, Prada chairman and chief executive, to join “right after” his exit from Calvin Klein in 2018.

Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada announce their partnership at an unexpected press conference in Milan. (Photo: AP Photo/Colleen Barry)

His appointment will mark a reunion of sorts: Bertelli and Prada hired Simons to design the Jil Sander label in 2005, which he led for seven years before joining Dior as artistic director.

Co-creative directors are a rarity in an industry that panders to the myth of a single creative force – one responsible for a company’s entire output of clothes, accessories and advertising campaigns.

“This may be the first time in fashion that two experienced designers who are individually very successful decided to work together,” Bertelli said.

“This may be the first time in fashion that two experienced designers who are individually very successful decided to work together.” – Patrizio Bertelli

Prada and Simons said they wanted to issue a “strong challenge to the idea of singularity of creative authorship” and would shoulder “equal responsibilities for creative input and decision-making”. Prada added that she had no plans to retire soon: “I like working. I’m here to work even more.”

Prada and Simons have long admired one another’s work, which has at times so closely dovetailed that critics speculated Simons was consulting for Prada – speculation he denied on Sunday. His appointment is unlikely to kick-start a big aesthetic shift, with the company stressing that the “distinct values and ethos of the Prada brand remain unchanged”.

“Prada tapping Raf Simons is a message to the industry that fashion in this day and age needn’t, and probably shouldn’t, have a singular view,” said Maria Milano, head of womenswear at Harrods, the luxury department store. “What Simons will bring is a symbiotic vision of the house that has been steeped in creativity and individuality since it launched ready-to-wear in 1989.”

“Prada tapping Raf Simons is a message to the industry that fashion in this day and age needn’t, and probably shouldn’t, have a singular view.” – Maria Milano

By Lauren Indvik © 2020 The Financial Times

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