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Prada princess sets her sights on China

THERE are fashionable people here that you wouldn't even find in Paris, New York or London," Miuccia Prada said of the burgeoning Chinese market. "They have already understood everything that they had to understand."

And Prada's company wants to tap further into that growing understanding. Last month, the luxury goods house staged its first-ever runway show in China at Beijing's Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum, displaying a slightly revamped spring collection. The show is part of Prada's plan to continue to expand in the region as it opens more stores on the Chinese mainland and nearby territories.

"In a country like this, there is a special desire for rich products," Prada said while discussing fast fashion, her design approach and the challenges of globalization.

Q: With this show in China, is this the first time you have presented special pieces for a specific market?

A: It was an adaptation for a special evening. Also the idea of doing the same identical show would mean the excitement level would drop. The pieces in striped cotton became sequined. There was a festive upgrade. Here, they don't love cotton uniforms, so we enhanced the part of the show made with less expensive materials. In a country like this, there is a special desire for rich products. A lower-end product might not be well received.

Q: Do you think globalization has made the creative process more difficult because you have to think about individual markets?

A: I think absolutely yes. I always say that up until the 1970s, fashion was white, Catholic, Western. Now fashion embraces the whole world with different religions, costumes...

Q: Could you make separate collections for different markets?

A: I don't know. Germany is sportier, America is more minimal. They're small differences. I don't know how to say it in a more simple way, but the rich are the same all over the world. The intellectuals are the same all over the world. It has always been this way. What pleases, pleases everywhere. Perhaps Japan is the only country that retains a bit of differentiation right now.

Q: Why did you decide to open new design studios in Paris and Hong Kong, and how will it work?

A: We decided to do this because not everyone wants to live in Milan. I made a curious twist on the French word "flaner," which means that when the people wanted to understand what was happening, they strolled the city. Now people travel the world. People really spend one day here, one day there, and then they want to spend two years here and two years there. I'd say it was almost a practical necessity. Also it's clearly an opportunity to get some young minds, fresher minds.

Q: Will you travel personally to these two cities?

A: I don't know. Probably while I'm in Paris, I'll definitely go there … but they will be the ones who will be coming to Italy.

Q: Do you come to China often?

A: About once a year.

Q: What do you think of the culture, the people?

A: I really like this country. I've always liked it. I came the first time in the 1980s. It's rather startling to see the differences every year. They are moving at such a fast pace. There are fashionable people here that you wouldn't even find in Paris, New York or London. They have already understood everything that they had to understand. Then later, they'll follow their own path. The market is still small compared to the European, American or Japanese markets.

Q: Technology and the speed at which everyone can see collections on the Internet immediately after they are presented is a big issue. Does the technology bring more positive or negative influences to fashion?

A: I think that, for now, this is the way it is. You can't avoid it. It's like being in denial about the future. The future will be even more like this because it's an opportunity that's so big and convenient. I don't use a computer, but I see everyone around me using them. It's immediate access to information, a way of communicating. I think it's a real, great revolution, perhaps bigger than the Industrial Revolution. Sometimes people criticize us because we aren't technological enough, because we don't sell on the Internet but to have people click on a runway show and sell it, I don't think that's the essence of the change.

Q: Is the current show calendar, the scheduling of the men's and women's shows and the New York-Milan-Paris system still a valid one?

A: Everyone says it's old but every time somebody thinks of something to do to really change it, there isn't this great solution. Because, in any case, putting the men's and women's together, I think for a designer it's a strain. You can put three male models in a show but if you really want to do a men's collection, you can't think of a men's and women's collection together, it's too much.

Q: What do you think of the fast-fashion boom?

A: I don't like the idea of a bad copy of what one does for the main brand. If I had an ingenious idea to do fashion that costs less but that wasn't a bad copy of something else, with completely different criteria and ways of doing things, I would do it. Also for myself, it would be an ingenious idea. For now, what I see more or less is the bad copy.

Q: When I was interviewing Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo…

A: What does she think of this?

Q: She said that she did the collaboration with H&M, but in the end she discovered that the worlds were too different from one another and she doesn't think she'll do something like that again.

A: It's what everyone wants and I resist it because I want to be relevant in my own way. I try to simplify my ideas and make them more simple but beyond a certain point, the simplification is not a positive thing. I would hope that those chains would create a young fashion that's fresh, autonomous with new ideas and that they would do fewer bad copies. There are already bad copies around. What I don't understand is all the admiration for this imitation. What's more, the same people in the luxury industry defend the market of the things that cost little. When things cost very little, you need to ask yourself how and where they were made.

Luxury products are costly because the companies manufacture in Europe and produce with salaries that have to be paid. You have to pay for everything that is needed to do research. It's clear that these things cost money. It's not like the owners of luxury brands make enormous profits. Probably the mass-market players earn much more.

Q: What is your view of men's fashion at the moment?

A: Men's fashion is a product that is evolving a lot. I think that men are beginning to open up a lot more, especially the younger generations. They are not as formal.

Q: Do you find it more difficult to find inspiration for men's rather than women's?

A: For me, the inspiration for men's is women's. It's what I'm thinking for the women. I try to understand everything that is possible, subtly adding or reinterpreting it for men.


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