Prada has not-so-secretly been struggling. Sales have been stagnant for over two years, and as of last month, the situation does not appear to be improving wildly for the Milan-based house, which also maintains little sister brand, Miu Miu. As Bloomberg’s Andrew Roberts noted recently, “Collapsing demand in China, the strong dollar and the Paris terror attacks made 2015 a year to forget for the luxury-goods industry and for Prada more than most.” Zuzanna Pusz, an analyst at Berenberg, echoed this sentiment, saying: “Prada continues to struggle following years of overexpansion in retail and high exposure.” In short: the devil isn’t wearing Prada anymore. In fact, no one is.
SEE NOW-BUY NOW
So, what is Prada doing to fix this? Well, the Fall/Winter 2016 runway season has been quite telling. The house, which was founded in 1913 by Mario Prada and which is currently under the control of longtime creative director, Miuccia Prada, has joined the See Now-Buy Now bandwagon, for one thing. On the heels of its F/W 2016 show last month, the brand announced that it is making two handbag styles from the newest collection shoppable immediately. The brand, known for its ugly-pretty aesthetic and luxury leather goods, some of which cost as much as $6,600, presented its latest addition to its accessories range at the show: the new Pionnière and Cahier bags. The bags have been available for sale directly following the runway show in selected Prada stores in Milan, London, Paris and New York.
In this way, Prada is following in the footsteps of Burberry, Michael Kors, Versace, Moschino, and Paco Rabanne, amongst others, which have pioneered the movement towards instantly-shoppable runway looks. Its introduction of new handbag styles may bode well for its sales, as analysts and industry insiders, alike, have suggested that the house needs to focus its efforts on turning out covetable garments and accessories, as opposed to expanding its retail presence. As for whether its adoption of See Now-Buy Now will have any significant impact on its struggling sales is yet to be determined.
MIU MIU NEEDS AN OVERHAUL, BRINGS DISTRACTIONS INSTEAD
In addition to efforts to modernize its runway-to-retail model, Prada has taken to its little sister label, Miu Miu, to make some changes, as well. It seems the house is taking the easy way out in terms of garnering mainstream media attention and fan fury, and that is exactly what it got for Fall/Winter 2016. Consider some recent headlines about the collection, which was staged during this month’s Paris Fashion Week: “Miu Miu's modern supermodel line-up had a combined Instagram following of 87 million,” “Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Emily Ratajkowski Close #PFW on the Miu Miu Catwalk,” and “Miuccia Prada connects with her millennial customers as celebrity models Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Bella Hadid.”
Vogue’s Janelle Okwodu, took on the casting, noting: “On the runway, the Miu Miu girl has always been an idiosyncratic gamine defined by her individuality, and most seasons, model-watchers looked to Miu Miu for a youthful spin on the aesthetics presented at Prada, or a lineup dominated by modeling’s offbeat beauties. [This season] changed all of that: Miuccia Prada and casting director Anita Bitton went in a different direction, incorporating an array of glamazons into the mix for added variety.”
Yes, Miu Miu brought in a number of new-age “supermodels” to up the ante for F/W 2016, and it was certainly a surprising move, as the brands’ director, Miuccia Prada, has never been one to follow the trends. Quite often, she has been the one to start them. In the case at hand, however, she is clearly in the former camp.
Instead of a classic Miu Miu runway, it looked like a Marc Jacobs one. It turns out Miuccia Prada has revived her relationship with Katie Grand, Editor-in-chief of LOVE magazine, who styled the show and brought friends (think: Emily Ratajkowski, Kendall Jenner, the Hadid sisters, etc.). Grand has worked on various Miu Miu advertising campaigns recently but hasn't styled one of the shows since 2005.
And as these new “it” models tend to do, they largely overshadowed the runway offerings. As Vogue Runway’s Sarah Mower, wrote in her review of the collection: “But with Miu Miu, in its position finishing off the season, one must always stay alert to Miuccia Prada’s knack of hinting at an agenda for the next round. This time, where was it? Not in the clothes themselves, but in some of the casting.”
As for the industry’s most respected critics (think: Vanessa, Bridget, Christina, Cathy, Robin, etc.), few of them actually took on the collection in any real length. WWD’s Bridget Foley did not review the collection; the New York Times’ Friedman dedicated a brief missive to it. The same can be said of the WSJ’s Binkley. The brand’s collection was not included in Robin Givhan’s round up for the Washington Post. Sense a trend here? I do.
What was written about Miu Miu’s Fall/Winter 2016 collection was not terribly flattering. For instance, in the bit of space that Horyn dedicated to the brand, she concluded: “Miu Miu is plainly in a bind … With this collection, you could see that Prada was trying to bring Miu Miu closer to the main line, by doing modified versions of some of the looks she showed last month in Milan, like fur-trimmed coats, a basic military-style jacket, and argyle knits. But Miu Miu needs a more considered overhaul if it wants to stay relevant as it ages.”
As for how turning the runway into a LOVE Magazine editorial achieves this in any meaningful and/or sustainable way: It likely does not. Better yet, as for how Miu Miu plans to translate its models’ “combined Instagram following of 87 million” into actual sales – something it is very much in need of – is another matter entirely. And this all assumes that the Miu Miu customer will be enticed (and not be deterred) by the brand’s new press-hungry direction. Note: according to reports, not everyone is pleased with the influx of social media models in the runway. To be frank, it felt like a cheap marketing ploy, one that I thought Miuccia – a true visionary and creative leader in the industry – was echelons above. Even the greats have weak seasons, I suppose.
Both Miu Miu and Prada are in undeniably problematic positions and chances are, changes like See Now-Buy Now (which has already proven to be little more than a push for more press) and the casting of Jenner/Hadids will not go the distance. Sure, they caught the headlines this season, but as the industry continues to unravel (thanks to sluggish sales and fatigued shoppers who are simply less brand loyal than those of decades before) we have to be learning that press ploys are simply not enough. At the end of the day, such attempts absolutely must be balanced with the offering of downright covetable, desirable, must-have clothing and accessories.
Without going back to the drawing board and focusing on the clothes – because they need to sell – such superficial edits are little more than temporary fixes that will likely leave both Prada and Miu Miu in just the same position in the not-too-distant future.