The Prada brand was first established in 1913, when Mario Prada opened a luxury store in the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II in Milan, selling high-end leather handbags, suitcases, steamer trunks and other accessories. These beautifully hand-crafted leather goods quickly became popular with the European elite and in 1919, Prada became an official supplier to the Italian royal family.
While the Prada name gained increasing renown and prestige during this time, the real turning point of its success occurred in 1970s when Mario's youngest granddaughter became the unlikely inheritor of the family's business.
Miuccia Prada was born Maria Bianchi Prada on 10 May 1949, in Milan. She studied at the University of Milan, where she earned a Ph.D. in Political Science and a reputation as an ardent feminist and Communist Party activist. At the age of 24, she decided to train as a mime and spent the following five years working under Giorgio Strehler in Milan's Piccolo Teatro.
By 1978, the Prada business was stagnant and struggling, as the popularity of its old fashioned products had declined. Launching a partnership with Patrizio Bertelli, a Tuscan businessman who later became her husband, Miuccia Prada set about updating the company's merchandise with designs she created herself.
With the trail-blazing instinct for which she would later become famous, Miuccia revolutionised the luxury leather goods brand by producing a range of black nylon handbags and backpacks with subtle labelling; a style that strongly contrasted the fashion of the time. Four years later, despite having no formal fashion training, she introduced a line of ready-to-wear women's clothes that she called, "uniforms for the slightly disenfranchised." The range gained her both critical acclaim and importantly, commercial success.
Under Bertelli's direction as business manager, the former luggage label transformed into a fashion powerhouse during the Nineties, as it launched a new, more affordable label based on Miuccia's own personal style called Miu Miu (her nickname) and later, a line of men's clothing. In the years since, Prada has continued its upward trajectory by introducing other new lines and today its products are sold in 70 countries worldwide through 540 directly operated stores and a network of other luxury retailers.
Prada has also been awarded some of fashion's highest honours, including the Council of Fashion Designers of America International Award, the British Fashion Awards International Designer of the Year and Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century" list for, "having provoked and influenced colleagues for years with her eccentric and highly personal sensibility". She has also featured in Forbes World's Billionaires List, most recently in 2014 when she was ranked #102 with a wealth of US$11.1 billion.
Beyond their fashion interests, Prada and her husband Patrizio Bertelli have become power players in the world of contemporary architecture and art, establishing the Fondazione Prada to acquire and exhibit an expanding collection of more than 700 works by artists including Michael Heizer, Walter De Maria, Anish Kapoor and many others.
Bertelli is also well-known for his sponsorship of Italy's America's Cup campaigns and is the owner of 'Luna Rossa' which is committed to challenging for the 35th America's Cup to be held in the Summer of 2017. The team's preparations will be based in Cagliari, Sardinia.
You can visit the Fondazione Prada exhibitions at the following locations:
Milan - via Fogazzaro 36, 20135 Milan
Venice - Ca' Corner della Regina, Santa Croce 2215, 30135 Venezia
Written by Jessica McIver
© Understanding Italy 2014
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