Miuccia Prada On China, the Web — and More

In an exclusive interview with WWD, the designer discussed everything from the challenges of globalization to fast fashion.

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Prada RTW Spring 2011

Photo By Jonah Kessel

Prada RTW Spring 2011

Photo By Jonah Kessel

Miuccia Prada

Photo By Jonah Kessel

BEIJING — “There are fashionable people here that you wouldn’t even find in Paris, New York or London,” Miuccia Prada said of the burgeoning Chinese market. “They have already understood everything that they had to understand.”

And Prada’s company wants to tap further into that growing understanding. The luxury goods house last weekend staged its first-ever runway show in China at this city’s Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum, displaying a slightly revamped spring collection. The show is part of Prada’s plan to continue to expand in the region as it opens more stores in Mainland China and nearby territories.

“In a country like this, there is a special desire for rich products,” Prada told WWD in an exclusive interview in which she discussed a vast range of subjects, including her company’s potential initial public offering, the challenges of globalization, fast fashion and her views on the art world.

Clad in a thick navy sweater, pleated white cotton skirt and platform heels, with hair still wet from a shower just moments earlier, Prada spoke from her Park Hyatt suite overlooking the expansive urban sprawl of Beijing. Still nursing her jet lag, which she put to good use by working at the show venue past 3 a.m. the night before, she marveled at how quickly the country had changed since her first visit, in the Eighties.

Catering to China’s increasingly moneyed clientele, for the show on Saturday the designer ditched the cotton pieces that dominated her September show in Milan and created new versions of her opening monochromatic looks in radzmire silk. She also revisited her flapper-style striped dresses, strappy heels and clutch bags by coating them in sequins. Similarly, canvas bags from the Milan show were redone in silk or saffiano leather for Beijing. The clothing from the show was made available made-to-order at Prada’s stores in China and Hong Kong the day after the show.

The event drew the likes of actresses Gong Li and Maggie Cheung and featured a lively after party with a performance by the Pet Shop Boys, whom the house flew in for the occasion.

The festivities reignited chatter about whether the company that Miuccia Prada owns along with her husband, Patrizio Bertelli, Prada’s chief executive officer, will finally go public after years of flirting with potential investors. Most recently, it emerged the company is looking at listing in Hong Kong to capitalize on the region’s wealth and desire for luxury names. On that score, Bertelli told WWD, “Up until now we haven’t made a definitive decision. At this point, we think a listing in Hong Kong is the most opportune solution. In the coming months, we will evaluate the timetable and the details.”

The executive, who had to cancel his trip to Beijing at the last minute, also said via e-mail that the group plans to open a significant number of new stores in Asia over the next three years and expects to attain significant growth in the region. Prada currently has 14 stores in Mainland China, nine in Hong Kong and two in Macau, and this year plans to open nine stores in Mainland cities such as Harbin, Guangzhou, Changchun and Hangzhou.

The company said 2010 revenues in China, Hong Kong and Macau rose 75 percent from 2009, to 389 million euros, or $529.4 million at current exchange. That represents nearly 20 percent of the group’s total turnover.

Here, Prada’s thoughts on China, the IPO, politics, the Internet and more:

WWD: With this show in China, is this the first time you have presented special pieces for a specific market?
Miuccia Prada:
It was an adaptation for a special evening. Also the idea of doing the same identical show would mean the excitement level would drop. The pieces in striped cotton became sequined. There was a festive upgrade. Here, they don’t love cotton uniforms, so we enhanced the part of the show [made with less expensive materials]. In a country like this, there is a special desire for rich products. A [lower-end] product might not be well received.

WWD: Do you think globalization has made the creative process more difficult because you have to think about all of these individual markets?
I think absolutely yes. I always say that up until the Seventies, fashion was white, Catholic, Western. Now fashion embraces the whole world with [different] religions, costumes, et cetera, et cetera. Before, it reflected the spirit of a small group. There is just one collection, and we don’t make specific things for specific markets, but [the clothes] try to accommodate a world which has become a lot bigger. It’s a lot more difficult in this sense…[but] I think it enriches [the design experience] because it’s bigger.

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