In 1913, Italian brothers Mario and Martino Prada founded what would be become one of the largest and most mysterious fashion houses in the world, Prada. Formerly known as Fratelli Prada, now legally filed and trading as Prada, S.p.A., the original business was comprised of two leather goods stores that sold prestige bags, trunks and travel accessories (History). Mario believed that women did not have a role in the business world and would not allow his female family members to work for him (PressReader). Despite their humble beginnings in Milan, within seven years of launching Prada, the brand built a name for itself as it was appointed the official supplier of the Italian Royal House (History).
As Mario began to age and move away from the business, it became clear that a successor was needed. Mario's son had no interest in taking over his father's business, but his daughter, Luisa Prada, did (Nolen). His opinion of not wanting women family members to work for him diminished over the years and he granted Luisa permission to take over Prada. She successfully ran the business for almost 20 years (Nolen). Luisa's daughter, Miuccia Prada, joined the company in 1970 and devoted her time to designing accessories. Eight years later, Miuccia completely took over the company for her mother (History).
Miuccia Prada was born in 1949 and is the youngest granddaughter of Mario. Prior to her time joining Prada, Miuccia completed her PhD in political science from the University of Milan. In 1978, eight years after joining the company, Miuccia officially took over Prada, and brought along her modern, cerebral femininity with her and implemented it into the fashion house's business model (Prada: a Brand History). Shortly before taking the helm of Prada, Miuccia married Patrizio Bertelli, a leather goods salesman who coincidentally sold Prada knockoffs. Shortly after she joined the company, Miuccia's husband Patrizio Bertelli onboarded as well, taking the role of business manager, allowing Miuccia to focus on her creative endeavours (Nolen). As the couple began to work together, the hard word and dedication began to pay off as Prada's sales began to increase. Miuccia publicly released her first design in 1979—a line of backpacks and totes made from her grandfather's old leather trunks. Prada followed up this hugely successful line of bags by offering Prada's first women's footwear collection, also released in 1979. (Nolen).
Miuccia's creativity and ambition led her to start her own high fashion brand, Miu Miu (name for Miuccia's childhood nickname), in 1992, as a division of the Prada brand. Industry experts often refer to this brand as “Prada's Little Sister,” but Miuccia has been careful and strict to ensure that most of their lines do not overlap (Miu Miu). From a business standpoint, Miu Miu traditionally is marketed as a more affordable option than Prada. Miuccia is known to be a strong feminist, and she brings this mindset into the Miu Miu brand—creating a product line that is sophisticated, independent and unconventionally feminine (Miu Miu).
Prada's target market is one that is diverse amongst demographics and reaches all around the globe. The typical Prada consumer is usually one of higher wealth status who values elegance but also fashion innovation (Prada Biography). Amongst consumers, Prada's handbags and accessories are the most frequently purchased product line. Handbags have been a key tenant in the Prada line since the brand's inception in the early 1900s, while their clothing business didn't come into the scene until created by Miuccia in 1988 (History). Since then, Prada has become a widely-recognized brand in the Asian and European markets, with the largest share of sales coming from Italy and China (Kelly).
The Asian and European markets had been Prada's key target audiences up until 2015, when they started seeing a decline in these areas of the world, specifically China. This sharp decline caused Chinese sales to fall at a fast rate of 26% (Kelly). This decline in sales for Prada caused them to re-evaluate the marketing techniques that they have followed for years, setting into motion an effort that was called the “Turning Point.” (Kelly). With this Turning Point, Prada had to determine who there new audience was going to be, and in 2016, Prada began targeting to their new market: millennials. Targeting to millennials is not a stranger in the fashion world as most brands are having to undertake new efforts in order to appeal to this vastly different population—in Prada's case, they are are connecting more with millennials through e-commerce sales and flexible pricing (Kelly). Prada also maintains their luxurious image by creating cinematic-like advertising that stands out amongst their competitors—previous photographers and cinematographers of Prada advertisements include acclaimed-fashion-photographers Alex Lindahl and David Sims (Givhan).
The Prada line is very diverse as in the fact it includes many categories that make up their overall brand line. Prada offers menswear and womenswear—both ready-to-wear and high fashion—accessories, and footwear (Horyn). While most of their goods are made directly by the company, Prada's name for eyewear is licensed out to Italian eyewear conglomerate Luxottica, while their fragrances are produced by beauty conglomerate Coty (History). Prada typically releases new goods to their lines based upon the typical fashion cycle, holding runway shows for each new season to showcase their latest goods (Prada Biography).
In order to establish itself as a luxurious figure in the fashion industry, Prada tends to keep a lower profile in terms of its marketing effort. Knowing that the brand has a strong correlation as a symbol of elegance and quality, Prada keeps a strong level of exclusivity (Prada: a Brand History). This level of exclusivity harkens back to the days in which Prada was the official supplier of clothing for the Royal Family of Italia (Nolen). Prada maintains this level of luxuriousness and exclusivity by limiting the retailers in which their goods are sold. Prada operates over 600 stores worldwide and maintains a bustling e-commerce store (Prada Store). Through their owned-and-operated stores, the entire range of Prada goods, such as accessories and ready-to-wear goods, is available for purchase. Prada also places their goods into higher-end retail stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, but limits their stock within these stores to their accessories line (Prada: a Brand History)
Iconic Looks and Signature Products
Prada's overall product image is one of sophistication and modesty, ideals of which directly contradict most of the women's fashion industry as a whole (Nolen). Miuccia Prada has maintained this image, explaining from a feminist's point of view that the “understated glamour and refined elegance stand in strong opposition to the overt sex appeal of many of the brand's competitors” (Nolen). In order to maintain this level, Prada relies heavily on “clean-simple lines, muted-basic colors, (and) exquisite tailoring to achieve a tasteful look that flatter the figure while preserving modesty” (Nolen). Miu Miu, on the other hand, relies more on vibrant, playful colors and whimsical patterns to appeal to a younger, more diverse audience (Miu Miu Designer Profile).
Figure 1. A photo of a selection of Miu Miu's product line. Taken from Stephania Mode. Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica Image Quest database. Copyright 2017 by StephaniaModa.com.
Prada has drastically changed since its inception in the early 1900s. As previously mentioned, Prada's core business used to rely on the sales of their leather goods—expansion of their business into clothing items did not come into focus until the 1980s under the leadership of Miuccia Prada (Miuccia Prada). Miuccia Prada also brought about distinct change that revolutionized the brand image of Prada: the divergence from solely relying on naturally-produced fabrics such as Leather and Cotton with the addition of synthetic fabrics such as Nylon. In 1984, under the direction of Miuccia Prada, Prada introduced a new material into their lines known as “Pocone.” (Prada: a Brand History). Pocone is synthetic fabric made of twisted weaves of nylon. Benefits of Pocone included it's lightweight design, rugability, and waterproofness, allowing it to be a viable option for those who were seeking Prada goods but did not want to purchase leather (Prada biography). This introduction of Pocone was also crucial as it was introduced during a time in which animal rights activism began to take hold across the globe—since Pocone was a synthetic-fabric, it allowed activists and Vegan's alike to purchase Prada goods. The introduction of Pocone also brought about one of Prada's most iconic designs, a design that also helped signal the new direction the brand was heading in: a multi-pocketed backpack.
Figure 2. A photo of the Prada 1984 “Vela” backpack. Taken from Bauknecht, S. (2016) Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica Image Quest database. Copyright 2016 by Sandra's Closet.
The multi-pocketed backpack, formally known as the “Vela,” was launched in 1984 alongside Prada's now-distinct pocone fabric (10 Times Miuccia Prada Changed the Game). This book bag at the time was iconic and became a cash cow for the company due it's versatility, along with its modern and cutting-edge industrial like design. The product to this day is widely known for being an idiosyncrasy due to its mix of industrial design and top-tier-build-quality and brand name that comes with being Prada. This silhouette can still be found in Prada stores to this day, having evolved alongside the brand and the fabrics/prints of the particular seasons (Prada Store). Prada continued this love for Pocone in the 1990s, as in Fall 1994 a ready-to-wear line was showcased in which all of the items were made of nylon. Praise was high for this line as critics saw it as a way for Prada to make their products more approachable, without degrading the quality or value—believing that no one was able to do nylon as well as they were.
Prada gained traction amongst celebrities and socialites when a Prada gown was worn by Academy Award winning actress Uma Thurman in 1995 to the Academy Awards (Nolen). In more recent years, Prada has been worn by numerous celebrities including Nicole Kidman, Kate Moss, Kerry Washington, and Lupita Nyong'o (Team, et. al., 2016). In recent years, Prada has made headlines for their work in costuming the 2013 film, The Great Gatsby, revitalizing interest in the brand and the 1920s flapper and dapper style (Alexander 2017).
In Fall 2010, in order to reignite conversation about their designs, Miuccia Prada began a new series of designs entitled the “Prada Made In” collection. The Made In collection is the production outsourcing of Prada's merchandise to other countries around the world, which is a stark divergence from before as Prada touted their “Made in Italy” label as a key-selling point (Tokatli 2014). Merchandise in this line included “oven tartan kilts under the ‘Prada Made in Scotland' label; and handcrafted alpaca wool knits came with the ‘Prada Made in Peru' label.” (Tokatli 2014). This line seemed great at the surface as it appeared that Prada was attempting to tap into the heritage of these nations in order to make more culturally appropriate attire. However, this line fell under scrutiny as it was revealed through their Initial Public Offering (IPO) that only the show products of the line were produced in those countries, while the rest of the production took place in China, Turkey, Vietnam, and Romania (Tokatli 2014). The outsourcing of production to these countries was a pivotal moment for Prada as it showcased the first time they moved production out of their hands, into countries that are known for their factory labor (Tokatli 2014). The issue with this, however, was that Prada did not openly disclose that they moved the production to these countries, but masqueraded it by saying the collection was produced in the country in which the product was named after Prada was thereby falsifying where production took place in order to keep the aura of their brand in-tact (Tokatli 2014). In order to undo some of this scrutiny, Prada set-forth new Corporate Social Responsibilities in 2015 (Pike 2015).
Prada also had another major controversy that came into light from 2011 onward: the usage of underage models for runway shows. This issue came into light in Fall 2011 when Prada casted 14 year-old actress Hailee Steinfeld to appear in a Miu Miu campaign (Mau 2011). Prada furthered the issue by casting multiple other underage girls, including models Ondria Hardin, Kelly Mittendorf Antonia Wesseloh, and Roos Abels over a three year period, leading up to 2014. While the usage of underage models is not directly illegal as it falls under the local jurisdiction of each country, it is considered to be an ethical issue (Mau 2011). Modeling is seen as a strenuous career due to the rigorous and strict policies regarding physical looks, particularly weight, that are put in place by most fashion designers. Using underage models is seen as something that could be harmful to their wellbeing as it could instill unhealthy eating habits, causing the development of eating disorders (Mau 2011). It is also seen as something potentially harmful as these individuals are not over the legal age of consent, which could lead to potential mistreatment and abuse in this cut-throat industry. Fashion organizations in many countries do have specific guidances and clauses regarding the usage of underage models—an example of which is the CFDA, the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The CFDA prohibits designers who are showcasing in the United States from using models under the age of 18 for aforementioned reasons (Mau 2011).
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