Miuccia Prada is not strictly a self-made woman. The company she revolutionised from a dusty luggage business to a paragon of luxury fashion was started by her grandfather. But she is certainly a self-fashioned one. She dyes her own hair honey blonde. She cuts it herself too (though she might let hairstylist Guido Palau give her a snip backstage before a show). She is a woman who takes things into her own hands, whether that means ideas, projects, or skirt lengths. Posing for a Tyler Mitchell photo shoot, she took out a pair of scissors and lopped off her hemline, right then and there. “There is a pleasure in cutting,” she tells me.
The pleasure of cutting is what has propelled Miu Miu, Mrs. Prada’s other fashion line, to be a viral phenomenon over the past year. When Mrs. Prada, as she is known in the industry, sent models down the runway last fall in chopped-off miniskirts—so short, the lining of the pockets was exposed—and hacked-off sweaters showing a practically mannerist expanse of abdomen, people went out of their minds. TikTok was filled with 20-somethings showing followers how to cut up their own skirts to create the look at home; as of this writing, #miumiu has more than 695 million views on the platform. During the first three months of 2022, searches for the brand were up 400 percent because of the miniskirt set, according to the Lyst Index. By February, nearly every magazine had put a star or a model in a version of the look; Nicole Kidman told an interviewer that she had yanked it off of stylist Katie Grand’s rack for the cover of Vanity Fair, which unleashed a days-long conversation about dressing your age. On Instagram, someone started an account dedicated to tracking its appearances (@miumiuset). As one viral tweet put it, “That Miu Miu skirt set being passed around like a blunt.”
Runway looks usually get passed around the internet because they are extreme. They become a meme and the subject of mocking. But instead of meme fodder, this look was something to be coveted with a manic urgency.
Mrs. Prada and I are sitting in her office in Milan, a sparse, concrete space on Via Bergamo, as she sips a cup of tea. Behind us, in the floor, is the entrance to her famous slide, a Carsten Höller work that takes you down a long, silvery tube and spits you out into the courtyard. “The idea of cutting is a rebellious gesture,” she offers in an attempt to explain the hype. But it was done to “something very normal. Classic. Usual.” She slips her thumbs through the belt loops of her yellow snakeskin knee-length Miu Miu skirt and shrugs. Little silver earrings wiggle in her lobes. “Why it became such a phenomenon, I don’t know. Probably because it was so classic. Because it was a pleated skirt.”
She called the collection Basic Instincts.
Something interesting has happened at Miu Miu over the past couple of years. That’s partly because something interesting happened at Prada too: In April 2020, Raf Simons became her co–creative director. “I’m very much concentrating on Miu Miu,” she says. “It is a playground, because it was smaller, so it was more free.” Not that she isn’t free at Prada; it’s more that “Prada is the most serious part of myself.” Mrs. Prada also began working with Lotta Volkova, the Russian-born, Paris-based stylist who was crucial to forming Demna’s early collections at Vetements and Balenciaga. (When asked why she wanted to work with Volkova, Mrs. Prada says, “Because she is very good.”) In 2021, sales were up 20 percent over the year prior; in the first half of 2022, they were 14 percent above that. And it’s not just handbags and shoes that are moving, as is the case for most luxury brands: Twice while I was writing this piece, I visited the Miu Miu store in SoHo, New York, and the miniskirts were completely sold out.
Hailey Benton Gates, a filmmaker who in 2019 directed one of the films in Mrs. Prada’s short-film series Miu Miu Women’s Tales, says that Miu Miu “feels like the place where [Mrs. Prada] goes to test the limits of something. She’s definitely an obsessive person. Like the skirt: How many different ways can a pleated skirt be done?”
Mrs. Prada started Miu Miu in 1993. The brand is often described as Prada’s “little sister,” but that is not quite right. It’s not a diffusion line, nor is it targeted at a younger or different audience (in fact, many Miu Miu wearers have been wearing the brand for years and are now in their 50s and 60s), and its prices are the same as Prada’s. “For me, they are equally important,” she says. Miu Miu, she clarifies, is “more charming.” And more naughty? She smiles. “Yes.”
Designers often seem to treat a section of a woman’s body as that season’s part du jour. “One [season] is the leg, [next] is the décolletage, after is the shoulder,” Mrs. Prada says. She turns her shoulder to the side and peeks over it coquettishly. “So I said, okay, something that is really ‘out of fashion’ now is an exaggerated midriff. … [To expose it] was a joke for me about the erogenous zone.” The show was accompanied by a hilariously out there film by Moroccan-born, New York–based artist Meriem Bennani in which showgoers’ eyes pop out at the sight of the skirt. The film closes with several of Bennani’s female friends and family members cackling about trends in plastic surgery (“They take fat from the thighs and inject it in the butt”), creating a zany meta-commentary on Mrs. Prada’s observation that bodies themselves are treated as trends. “My relationship to my body and my gender and putting clothes on starts with the women around me growing up,” says Bennani. “That has defined my relationship to what parts of my body I’m uncomfortable showing or not. In the Moroccan environment I grew up in, there’s such humour around bodies.”
One of the reasons the miniskirt caused such a frenzy is that it is radical, even political. “It is probably one of the biggest examples, if not the most important example, of rebellion,” Mrs. Prada says. “More than [Coco] Chanel relaxing clothes, more than taking away the bustier.” In the 1960s, she offers, the miniskirt was revolutionary because “it was saying, ‘We own our body. We do what we want. We don’t want to be constricted.’ So the nakedness back then became the idea of freedom and protest.”
Mrs. Prada’s miniskirts weren’t intended as a protest; she isn’t even sure you can protest with clothes anymore. Instead, you can “invent a new way of being beautiful or sexy. Not going with the cliché of it, but inventing your own way and deciding what you want to wear according to your [own] thoughts.”
That is the type of idea that has created a kind of cult around Mrs. Prada. “There’s something very impish about her,” Gates says. “Her humour is very wry, and she likes bad girls.” The woman loyal to Miu Miu is less a customer than a woman casting herself as a character in the Mrs. Prada universe, gamely showing up for whatever costume the auteur has imagined, whether it’s a miniskirt or a pair of enormous Abominable Snowman–worthy faux-fur boots. With the miniskirt, for example, it was clear that it was too short. But more important than the length was the ragged hem, like a woman decided at the spur of the moment to take this anodyne garment and maniacally ruin it—as a way of seizing her own destiny, perhaps, or of regaining control over her inevitable demise. It is not a protest but an expression of hypercontemporary aggression. “One thing that I strongly believe: You have to try to do something relevant,” Mrs. Prada says. “Not making something for the sake of something strange.” She doesn’t like what she calls “useless fashion.” In part, her decision to thread ideas through multiple seasons is about sustainability: “Instead of each season being a different craziness or exaggeration, I want to give it more consistency, because it has a power. I am one of the few women designers. I want to make it more relevant.”
For autumn/winter 2022, she continued some of the ideas from the spring collection. Autumn was about retaining the “classicism,” as she put it, from spring 2022 (more pleats, more miniskirts) and about “being wrong.” Being wrong? I ask.
She leans in, her voice deeper and stronger: “Being wrong.”
So: tennis skirts … for winter. Little sexy slips with bizarro embroideries paired with big, chunky boots. She also cast a number of male-identifying models in the show, sending them out in new tennis-inspired iterations of that miniskirt. “It was very subtle,” she says, intended less as a statement about how the clothes should be worn than how customers are wearing them, since people of different gender expressions, she’s discovered, have been eagerly shopping at Miu Miu. (Miu Miu’s menswear line was shuttered in 2008.) Musing about why her designs resonate with men, she offers that perhaps they identify with her vision of femininity, which she describes as “nice, generous, loving, caring.” These are important, she says, because “otherwise, we will become tough people. There is so much hate and aggression around that we should embrace that aspect of being generous and nice and not aggressive and hateful.”
Fashion designers do more in this era than they ever have before, not only creating clothes but also building universes of imagery and influence through marketing and branding. One thing they rarely do is create trends. Rather than starting on runways, trends seem to bubble up quixotically on social media; on TikTok, trends seem to appear overnight—cottagecore, Barbiecore, yadayadacore—but have the life span of a flea, and rarely do they have the power or time to resonate beyond their immediate practitioners. Fast fashion has become so pervasive, a universe unto itself, that most people wearing the Shein version of a designer dress probably have no idea it’s a rip-off of someone else’s idea.
But Mrs. Prada still creates trends. In February, the fast-fashion brand Fashion Nova made an exact replica of a Miu Miu set. “When I saw that, I was like, ‘They’ve made it!’ ” Bennani says. “That’s when you know it’s becoming a thing.” On TikTok, countless 20-somethings showed off their DIY versions of the chopped miniskirt, offering open homage to Miu Miu.
I pull up one video of a kid showing off a “budget Miu Miu” khaki skirt and crop top and play it for Mrs. Prada. She grins. “Fantastic.” (She doesn’t look at TikTok often: “I have too many things to do.”)
Why is it that Mrs. Prada is able to create clothes that penetrate at every level of the culture? “Because I am interested in fashion,” she tells me. Not style. Not what sells. Not products. Not what celebrities like. But fashion, with all its whims and contradictions and singular possibilities. “The moment [a brand] does something, all the others do the same. You find the same things [with] a different logo: the same shoe, the same bag—identical, but [with] each brand’s logo. That creates money. That doesn’t create trends. We in Prada, and Miu Miu even more—I believe in fashion. Fashion is my job. Also, [creating trends] is the interesting thing about it; otherwise, you just do clothes. But if you believe in fashion and eventually create trends, it means that what you are doing makes sense to people. It means you are connected to people.
I never think about what people want—ever, ever—but even if I don’t look at TikTok,” she says with a laugh, “I am interested in culture, and youth culture in general, also because I work with so many young people here and at the Fondazione Prada [my institution for contemporary art and culture in Milan], with young artists. I’m always with younger people. And because I’m a curious person, eventually what I do resonates with these people because somehow I’m connected. You have to be interested in the future. The future includes young people. This is the key of everything.”
This is the way Mrs. Prada’s mind works. I don’t know that I’ve ever met someone who enjoys thinking as much as she does, and I don’t simply mean that she is smart. She reads constantly about art, about politics, about fashion. She loves to ask questions. She loves to contradict. She loves to work out ideas aloud. Thinking, for her (and in her presence), becomes a kind of luxury experience: divine, beautiful, and extravagant.
Though Mrs. Prada moves fluidly between the worlds of art and fashion, she rarely mixes the two. “One of the first things she told me was that she always feels she wants to protect artists from the fashion world,” Bennani says. You’ll often come across, in attempts to be high-minded about fashion, the idea that fashion is a form of art—something that’s always bugged me. This has always seemed to me like a way to create credibility for an industry that people think they have to justify or defend. But does art really have more credibility than fashion? Regardless of whether Mrs. Prada believes it does, I don’t think she believes fashion needs justification. Indeed, she sees all the realities of fashion—the speed, the frivolity, the mindless change, the cycles—and she investigates them through materials, shapes, archetypes, characters. She takes its substance, and even its lack thereof, seriously.
Mrs. Prada doesn’t think like an artist; she thinks like a designer. “When you have that kind of vision of the world, you understand what you do as a medium,” Bennani explains. And she uses the tools at her disposal to say something about our world, our feelings, our minds and bodies. That is what makes her work so powerful.
Does she feel she is in a period of great creativity? “To be honest? Yes.” Why?
“I passed a period where I lost all my friends.” Editor Ingrid Sischy, who spent decades beautifully elucidating Mrs. Prada’s work, and her longtime collaborator and friend of 40 years, Manuela Pavesi, both died in 2015, to name just two. “And so it was really a difficult period. Now I’m recovering. Actually, I feel good.”
It’s not a feeling that’s derived from this current fervor around Miu Miu. “I never really enjoy success,” she says. “I am happy with my life. Not only with my job. I am happy; I am at peace with myself.”
Before leaving her office, I glance at Mrs. Prada’s famous slide. When was the last time she went down it? “It’s a long time,” she says. “At the beginning, it was exciting. I get bored very quickly. That is why I like fashion.”
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