Prada opens a boutique on the Wynn esplanade that is as faithful to the tradition of the venerable design house as it is to its inimitable co-Ceo and lead designer Miuccia Prada’s maverick sensibilities.
If you were forced to nominate one single current designer to represent fashion, someone whose name and style are known by even the most sartorially challenged, there is really only one candidate: Miuccia Prada. And, if such a poll were restricted to the cognoscenti, it might still come up Prada. Because Mrs. Prada, as those insiders call her, is one of a handful of individuals who command universal respect in the fickle, competitive world of fashion, even though it is a world she was reluctant to join.
This factoid is one of a number of startling biographical details in the Prada creation myth—such as: Miuccia Prada is probably the only fashion grandee with a doctorate in political science, and definitively the only major designer who is a former Italian Communist Party member with five years of mime training under her ostrich leather belt. It was hardly the ambition of the then-29-year-old arty intellectual feminist from the Milanese counterculture to take over Fratelli Prada, the luxury luggage company her grandfather Mario had founded in 1913. Yet, in 1978, she bit the bullet, taught herself design and, seven years later, launched a range of handbags in military-grade black nylon that became instant cult objects: the first It bags. Later, she married her business partner Patrizio Bertelli—they are still very much together in both senses—who, in 1988, became the catalyst of fashion’s swerve into left feld. It was by appealing to his new wife’s famous competitive instincts that Bertelli more or less goaded her into designing clothes, when he threatened to hire a “professional.” And thus was born the most recognizable—and financially successful—of fashion’s mavericks.
The empire that Prada inherited began as a single shop in Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. In a sense, this is still the empire— only opposite that little atelier now stands a second, far grander, Prada. And Prada stores fan out worldwide (70 countries) in more than 600 directly operated retail hubs, turning over some $4.65 billion annually. The very newest of the 600-plus stores is a 7,000-square-foot bemirrored marble and steel ode to the original atelier by Roberto Baciocchi. The latest star opened in October on the Wynn Esplanade: not the first, nor the second, but the third Prada in Las Vegas. Even in a city that is the luxury shopper’s nirvana, that is some heavy Prada coverage. Of course, this boutique is something quite special. Its entrance is dedicated to women, defined by the signature black and white marble checkered flooring, and opens up into a large octagonal space in which leather goods and accessories collections are set as art atop polished-steel display cases embellished with black Marquina marble drawers against a backdrop of green fabric-clad walls. Cut-in alcoves, in a reinterpretation of Prada’s iconic display niches, showcase the leather goods, accessories, and jewelry. A mirrored portal leads to the men’s collection in a succession of intimate spaces punctuated by polished-steel display counters and green ostrich leather sofas. But duck into one of the alcoves, such as a room devoted to exotic leather goods, and you will see what separates this from other leather goods shopping experiences. Sit across from a Prada made-to-order specialist, and you may customize your handbag from a selection of Prada’s most iconic styles, including the Prada Galleria, Pyramid, and Sound in safano leather, ostrich, or crocodile in a variety of color combinations, and then personalize it with your initials in silver or gold. The made-to-order service is offered only in three locations in the United States— Madison Avenue, Beverly Hills, and at Wynn. A few handbags on the shelves even celebrate the Wynn and Prada marriage, made exclusively for Wynn.
So how do these clothes, shoes and, of course, bags of all sizes keep renewing their appeal? Certainly a Prada collection is aspirational, replete with exquisite artisan detail and masterful tailoring, but it is also edgy, avant-garde, and often downright challenging. To parse Prada, we must look to the woman herself.
From her very first 1989 collection, Prada refused to do things the “correct” way. “By definition good taste is horrible taste. I do have a healthy disrespect for those values,” she noted. At the time, Milan fashion was nothing but good taste, if glitzy, with highly produced shows of va-va-voom corsetry, enormous hair, power shoulders, gilt buttons, and mini-miniskirts. “Fashion fosters clichés of beauty, but I want to tear them apart,” she said. And amid the theatrical hyper-femininity, she did just that, showing minimal, muted long skirts, cropped pants, demure collars, and vintage silhouettes, all paraded on a beige carpet, hair close to the head, bare faces—and not a heel in sight.
“I was very much criticized for inventing the trashy and the ugly,” the designer said recently. “But the investigation of ugliness is, to me, more interesting than the bourgeois idea of beauty.” Indeed, the resetting of our collective eye began immediately, as Prada first made us look twice.
Miuccia Prada walks the runway during Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/ Summer 2016.
In a way, it’s obvious why her iconoclastic vision should be so potent. Unlike many designers in major houses today, Prada has creative freedom. She works purely from her own aesthetic, alighting on whatever motif grabs her attention, whether it’s fairies (2008), stripes and bananas (2011), or something more abstract such as Symbolism (Spring/Summer 2016). This collection she named—at the last possible minute, as is her wont—post-modest, post-industrialist, post-pop. “It was trying to analyze the concept between honesty, humanity, and simplicity, compared with the necessity of being bold, aggressive, and loud,” she explained backstage. Well, yes, and, as the curator of the 2012 Prada/Schiaparelli show at the Met said, “Prada is more semiotician than designer. She’s like the Umberto Eco of fashion.” And yet she is thankfully less than deadly serious. Yes, it was Symbolism, she said, but “I don’t like to simplify thoughts, so we chose stupid symbols, the most infantile, that worked graphically.” Hence bunnies, spaceships, and big red arrows. Ugly, funny, sublime.
Rabbits and rockets are reprised in the SS16 women’s ready-to-wear collection currently in store—this time on charming silk blouses. This backstage disquisition was given by Prada’s longtime Design Director Fabio Zambernardi (as Miuccia Prada had just lost her beloved 103-year-old aunt), and the information was direct. “Mrs. Prada was obsessed with suits this season, because we really don’t do them so much anymore,” Zambernardi pointed out. “She likes obsessions.” It has been called a return to her roots, a redo of Prada tropes, and certainly it’s a collectible season, with the familiar boxy jacket and knee-length skirt, only very, very tweaked. Here are gaudy 1970s intarsia V-neck wool tanks tucked into, and showing right through, starched organza skirts, the matching jackets in matchstick-line print with black edges recalling Lichtenstein or Roberta di Camerino.
Also in organza are gorgeous embellished graphic frocks in 1920s flapper shapes and, in the opposite corner, show-stopper leather blazers in stripes of matte, patent, and suede, and boxy suede white-tipped car coats with contrast collars, all in colors more autumnal than spring—raising the question of where, in Prada’s global market, is it spring anyway? Those bunny-print silk blouses are worn half untucked, with overlong sleeves bunched down to the knuckles that hold the handbag—and what handbags! Some highlights: totes in candy-striped crocodile; a whole stable of top-handle structured lady purses in stripes of colorful calf or croc, as tightly constructed as car seats; a snakeskin purse with steroidal chrome hardware and chain straps thick enough for ships; and the continuing evolution of the new Inside Bag. They’ll look especially alluring showcased in diva light on the curved walls of accessory cubbies on the Esplanade.
“When I started,” says the designer, “everybody hated what I was doing except a few clever people.” Well, thank you, Mrs. Prada. We can all feel clever now. Prada, Wynn, 702-770-3495