Prada’s New Universe: SoHo Store Gets Chinese Makeover

Prada is redecorating in SoHo. The company has mounted the second installation for the Rem Koolhaas-designed emporium. Here’s a look.

NEW YORK — Everyone is looking to China for inspiration these days — including Miuccia Prada.

For Prada, those Asian influences are found not only in her spring collections, but also in the new design concept of the SoHo store, which will be unveiled at a party this evening. Only 14 months after opening, the sprawling space has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts with an installation entitled "Parallel Universe."

When it opened in December 2001, the high tech, 30,000 square-foot store, built at an estimated cost of $30 million, drew all sorts of industry scrutiny — good and bad — given the waning economy, the troubled retail sector and the post-Sept. 11 distaste of any over-the-top displays of commerce or conspicuous consumption. But Prada has trumped the naysayers by forging ahead with her and architect Rem Koolhaas’ initial plan for a totally innovative retail concept. The new installation is the first of many that will significantly alter the flagship’s aesthetic at regular intervals.

"The basic idea of the store was that it was a place where we could experiment on different levels," said Prada over the telephone from Milan, where she was busily putting the finishing touches on her Prada and Miu Miu collections.

"Three years ago we started saying that we were kind of fed up with the old stores all being equal. That was the reason we contacted these famous architects, and since the beginning the idea was to do something new and different."

Though changing the installations once or twice a year may seem like an expensive proposition, not so, according to Prada. "Changing [the store], it’s not crazy at all. It’s like normal expenses. We also like the idea that sometimes [the installations] can be super-expensive and other times super-poor."

While the store’s detractors maintain that the space is pretentious and unshoppable, Prada disagrees, pointing to positive consumer reactions.

"The store is super-successful. It is the first or second store in America, and we are super happy. Remember when everybody said that we were wrong, that we were crazy? Now everybody is doing it," said Prada, likely referring to the recent roll-out of high-concept retail stores from luxury brands like Armani and Gucci Group. The new store concept is a product of an ongoing collaboration with Koolhaas, whose philosophy for "Parallel Universe" was to create an atmosphere of shopping and living in another geographic locale within a static retail clime. In this case, it’s China.
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