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Image: via Prada

On the heels of Miuccia Prada showing a Fall/Winter 2020 collection that did not merely whisper references of Belgian designer Raf Simons, it all but seemed to shovel them onto the red-backgrounded runway, the Milan-based brand has confirmed that Simons will, in fact, take on the role of creative director … or in actuality, co-creative director. In a statement on Sunday, Prada revealed that effective April 1, 2020, Simons will join Mrs. Prada at brand’s helm.

Fresh from an ultimately less-than-harmonious stint at Calvin Klein, Simons will join one of the most cult-favored high fashion houses in the world. In the new role, which Prada says was “born from a deep reciprocal respect and from an open conversation … between designers widely acknowledged as two of the most important and influential of today,” Simons, 53, will have “equal responsibilities for creative input and decision making” for the womenswear and menswear divisions, according to the statement, making for an interesting new development for Prada, the house that Miuccia built.

Even if the brand was founded as a leather goods shop two generations before her in 1913 by her grandfather Mario Prada), the now-70-year old Miuccia Prada – who has served as creative director since 1978, taking over for her mother Luisa Prada, but only after she had received a Ph.D. in political science, trained as a mime, and joined the Communist party – has had the strongest hand in turning what was once a small, family-owned leather goods company into a globally-reaching brand. 

Alongside her husband Patrizio Bertelli with whom she shares the CEO title, Mrs. Prada, as she is known, took her family’s firm and made it a pinnacle in the world of high fashion by way of her ugly-chic aesthetic and cult-favored nylon handbags, the latter of which – complete their military-grade waterproof nylon bodies, supple leather handles, and the house’s famed upside-down triangle trademark – first hit stores in the late 1970s. As the New York Times put it not too long ago, “In 1978, she designed a black nylon rucksack that would later take the world by storm,” as would her eccentric ready-to-wear offerings, which made their debut in 1988, with menswear following in 1995. 

More recently, Prada – which falls under the umbrella of the Prada Group along with sister label Miu Miu, Church’s and Car Shoe – has failed to match its successes from decades ago, with sales falling for consecutive quarters across the globe. While all luxury-goods companies were hit by collapsing demand, the strong dollar and the terrorist attacks in Europe in and around 2015, Prada was hit harder than most, with analysts pointing to its too-expensive handbag range and its unwillingness to invest online.

The brand has since initiated a multi-year restructuring at Prada, which began to pay off in 2018 when sales returned to grow for the first time in four years thanks to a new strategy aimed at “rejuvenating the label by renovating shops, launching new products and boosting online sales,” according to Reuters.

In terms of the Simons tie-up, which has no official end date (“the contract is forever, there is no end date to the contract,” per Prada), not only is it the first time than someone other than a Prada family member has been in the top creative spot, as Vogue writes it is “a unique arrangement, [as] there are few examples of designer founders splitting duties with another creative of such high profile.”

As for Raf, who is as similarly cult-followed as Prada, he said on Sunday, “I’m very pleased to announce our partnership on Prada, a brand I’ve been interested in my whole life … I’m not closing my own [Antwerp-based eponymous] business, I always look for new challenges in my life… Mr. Bertelli approached me right after my exit from Calvin Klein.” 

Addressing whether this is the first step in her eventual step down, Mrs. Prada, 70, made clear in the statement that that is “absolutely not” the case.

The first collection in connection with the new partnership – one that will “encompass” all creative facets of the Prada label, per Prada, and which is “a  bold reinforcement of the importance and power of creativity in a shifting cultural landscape – will be Spring/Summer 2021 womenswear, which will be presented in Milan in September 2020.