Proenza Schouler x Birkenstock, Halpern x J Brand, Moncler x Rick Owens. Fashion collaborations have reached fever pitch this season. So, when rumours were finally confirmed at a press conference during Milan Fashion Week that Raf Simons would be joining the Prada brand as co-creative director - working in partnership with Miuccia Prada with “equal responsibilities for creative input and decision-making” (effective April 2nd; their joint collection debuting in September for SS21) - you’d be forgiven for thinking this alliance was riding the trend wave. Not so – as with their own collections each season, they do not follow trends, they set them.
It signals a systemic shift in the fashion eco-system, which has long celebrated ‘the face’ – singular - behind a brand. This is individuals with uncompromising visions, arguably two of the most innovative and influential design talents working today, who will now be working together (oh to be a fly on that wall). There’s no ‘limited-edition’ capsule collections, or contracted ‘end date'. This is a fashion marriage, not a seasonal flirtation.
Even the press release, sent out right after the announcement, felt like the duo were sharing their vows with the world: “This partnership, encompassing all creative facets of the Prada label, is born from a deep reciprocal respect and from an open conversation - it is a mutual decision, proposed and determined by both parties.”
“As times change, so should creativity,” it continues. “The synergy of this partnership is far-reaching. It is a reaction to the era in which we live - an epoch with fresh possibilities, permitting a different point of view and approach to established methodologies. It can also be seen as the first step towards broader scopes of interaction - an initiation of free exchange and collaboration, a questioning of creative conventions.”
It feels all the more significant when you consider the breadcrumbs of the Italian megabrand. It is a deeply personal, eponymous label, it is Miuccia Prada. Always a little out-of-step with contemporary fashion; constantly pushing ideas forward. “My idea is always to avoid nostalgia," Miuccia once told a reporter backstage.
Hailed as the First Lady of European fashion, Mrs Prada confronts notions of good and bad taste in the most spectacular way, often motivated by things she typically dislikes. Like the missing piece of a puzzle she is single-handedly trying to solve. Golf, for instance - a sport she hates - sparked inspiration for an entire menswear collection. She made brown a cool shade to wear: “Brown is a colour that no one likes … so, of course, I like it because it’s difficult.” The now-iconic nylon backpack was born out of disregard for the ladylike arm-candy around at the time (1980s). Similarly, Raf Simons has always pushed the boundaries of design. The mission statement on the Belgian designer’s website sums up his subversive style DNA neatly: “Always at the core of his universe (and as essential as the clothes themselves) are attitudes, moods and statements about individuality and independence.”
Both designers are what you would call fashion provocateurs. A phenomenon which reached dizzying heights in the 1990s, when it became almost impossible to untangle the designer from the fashion house they were heading up: think John Galliano at Dior, Tom Ford at Gucci and Marc Jacobs at Perry Ellis. These personalities were the brands.
That’s not to say the art of collaboration hasn’t been present. In many ways, this has been at the heart of some of the biggest fashion houses. The late, great Lee Alexander McQueen, for instance, worked with many creatives throughout his career; from jewellery designer Shaun Leane and stylist and confidante Katy England to shoe designer Georgina Goodman. But this has always been something bubbling away behind-the-scenes, historically overshadowed by the head cheerleader..
Elsewhere, super stylist Katie Grand has worked closely with Marc Jacobs for 15 years (a creative partnership which first formed when Jacobs was at the helm of Louis Vuitton): “Traditionally, what a stylist does is put together the looks, like pairing the right shoes and accessories with tops and skirts,” Grand explains. “With Marc, I work on designing the clothes and choosing the fabrics and working on shoes and bags and accessories. Basically, all aspects of clothing.” And while the term ‘muse’ may seem hackneyed, the lexicon does apply to fashion editor, stylist and tastemaker Isabella Blow, who long inspired Philip Treacy’s fantastically absurd headgear.
Today, sharing the spotlight is on the up. Slowly but surely. For the first time in its 35-year history, the 2019 Turner Prize crowned all four contenders on the shortlist winners. The artists - Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo, and Tai Shani - jointly wrote to judges to request they consider awarding the Prize to them as a collective, splitting the £40,000 prize pot between them. In October, literary superstars Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo were announced as the collective winners of the 2019 Booker Prize, splitting the £50,000 prize.
Likewise, the ruthless, Devil Wears Prada-style veneer of high fashion appears to be cracking, in an era where singular creative authorship feels a bit tired. Ultimately any successful enterprise, relies on the meeting of minds, long-term relationships, creative brainstorming and a sense of community. Something that is now visibly being celebrated. “I like the idea of sharing my ideas with more people,” says Miuccia Prada. “That’s the interesting part, to work outside the small elite that I know.”
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