Museum Piece: A vintage interview with Miuccia Prada

I recently unearthed an interview with Miuccia Prada from 1993, when her label had just begun its run at the height of fashion. It is published here exclusively for the first time.

Michael Gross: When did Prada start? How old is Prada?

Miuccia Prada: It started at the beginning of the century. 1913. It was kind of a luxury shop where there were not only bags, evening bags, but precious pieces, silver and ivory, objects, boxes, jewelry bags, manufactured by Prada in different countries. My grandfather was a big traveler and did pieces all over the world, exclusively for him, in Czechoslovakia, England, China.

Was your family wealthy?

My grandfather had an idea. He was not an artisan. He had this concept of a luxury shop and he began to travel around and do production to put together this concept. Beauty kits. Luggage. Crocodile. Silver. For traveling. Fantastic. His shop was one of the richest in Europe.

Where was it located?

There was one in the Galleria [in Milan]. And another one in via Manzoni. Then there was the war, he was killed, and just my mother took a little bit of care of this, but just leaving [it] as it was [and] it went down. There was a period of decadence between my grandfather and me. Approximately 15 years ago, I decided to start again this work.

The same thing? Bags and objects, but not clothing?

Yes. Before, it was really traditional luxury. I started to do modern luxury.

How did you decide to get involved?

I had a degree in political science. That’s what I studied and I did completely different things. But I always liked dresses and objects, so between the two things, between the intellectual work and the luxury, I decided to do this work. Immediately, I did a contract with a big company and we began to produce and sell everywhere.

Before that everything was made by other factories just for the [Prada] store?

Exactly. We began to produce and distribute. We began to sell everywhere. In the beginning it was bags. That was all we did. And after five, six years, we started to do shoes. I never wanted to add something, but after pressure, I was convinced.

Who was pressuring you?

My husband was the owner of the big company. I got pressure to do more.

To get bigger?

Yes. And we started with shoes. And three years ago, after five years of trying to convince me, I decided—

To do ready-to-wear?

Yes. [laughs] It’s really a big, big factory. And we decided we wanted to control it because our characteristic, our style, comes much more from the manufacture and the technique than from just the idea. To be modern, it’s very important to control the technique. It’s difficult, but we decided we didn’t want to go to somebody else.

And it only manufactures Prada?

They had done two small lines of leather goods. But we started a company just to do Prada. My husband was very young and he’d just begun to do this work after studies and we started together.

It’s not common for one company to manufacture luggage, shoes and clothing.

No, we are the only one. And what is very important is that we control everything. We have a big factory only for samples. More than 200 people doing only samples.

Where is the factory?

Near Arezzo, between Florence and Arezzo. My husband is [from] Arezzo, and so we live half in Milan and half in the country, in Tuscany.

You weren’t doing classic Italian fashion. It was new, minimal, a very aesthetic approach. Why did you go that way? What was the philosophy?

One of the biggest of my ideas is, I love the past very much, but I really want to be in the present. So always, I try to mix the two things, the technology, the patrimony of artisans and the luxury of the past but done in a really modern way. The other thing is, I like simple things, but I like luxury in this moment. And so the fabrics and the technology are very important. Our work in leather is exactly the same as the ready-to-wear.

It’s not classic, it’s spare. It’s incredible luxury but it doesn’t shout. Is that a decision?

Yes, absolutely.

So I wonder why you made that decision when you are dealing with a fashionable name that’s also an old, established name.

It’s always been my idea. I like very rich things but I don’t like shouting things. It’s really my preference. But perhaps a little bit eccentric because the other thing I like is to be free in inspirations. One year, I do this and then I absolutely want to change 100 percent the next year. I want to be free to do whatever I like. When you never change it’s really a problem when you want to change. We will not have the moment where we have to do a really big change.

Is that a risk?

Yes! The risk is, it takes more time to establish strongly. Because we don’t have a style so immediately, you have to know it to understand and after, you recognize.

Was there a plan to keep moving, to keep going forward? Was this a way to keep Prada growing?

Yes, if you stay still, you die. You have always to move. So it’s logical to expand.

Every fashion editor has a Prada bag. Is there a danger in that? Becoming a status symbol and then getting used up?

That’s why it changes, always. We are very attentive to this.