Today, 10th May is fashion designer Miuccia Prada’s birthday, and I gathered up as much information as I could find to put together a video for social media – I couldn’t fit even half of what I found on that video, so this post collects all the details, and it ended up quite a bit longer than intended!
There’s a reference list at the bottom of the post if you’d like to read up some more (and double check my facts – though I’ve done my best to only post information here if I’ve found 2+ sources for it myself).
Miuccia Prada was born as Maria Bianchi on 10th May 1949 in Milan, Italy. She studied Political Science at the University of Milan, graduating with a PhD in 1973. Being a feminist, she was involved in the women’s rights movement. In 1973 she decided on a change of path and began to study pantomime at the Teatro Piccolo in Milan.
The brand ‘Fratelli Prada’ had been set up by her grandfather Mario Prada, selling luggage and bags. After Mario’s death, the company was passed into the hands of Miuccia’s mother, Luisa.
Miuccia didn’t initially want to join the business as she thought fashion to be frivolous and in opposition of her ideals.
Miuccia did eventually join the business in 1975, where she oversaw the design of accessories. On a trip to a trade show in 1977, she met Patrizio Bertelli, who owned a leather-goods manufacturing company in Arezzo called IPI (I Pelletieri d’Italia). He was selling bags that were so similar to those made by Fratelli Prada that she called him out on it, but the bags were so well made that IPI ended up being contracted to manufacture for Prada.
Bertelli was a savvy businessman and began to help the Prada brand grow, and also to nurture Miuccia’s ideas. In 1979 she released a line of footwear, and a series of unlabled handbags made of ‘Pocono’ nylon, though these didn’t see much success. The nylon fabric was a strange choice at the time – this was a water-resistant fabric used for making military tents, and had also been used by Prada’s grandfather as a protective cover for his steamer trunks.
In the 1980s, Miuccia Prada was adopted by an aunt so she could take the family surname. By this time the business had already started expanding, with the second Prada store opening in 1983.
In 1984, Prada launched the Saffiano Leather Galleria handbag. It became a classic and is still made today.
In 1985 she re-issued the Pocono nylon bags from 1979, and this time they were a success, being worn by celebrities including the model Jerry Hall.
Prada and Bertelli married in 1987, and their first son was born in 1988. This was also the year that Prada launched womenswear for Prada, with the launch of an AW1988/89 collection in Milan featuring parkas made of nylon.
Miuccia’s second son Giulio was born in 1990. This year, the very first Prada perfume was released. If you’re into perfume like me, and you’re curious to know the details, the top notes are Bergamot, Fruity Notes, Green Notes and Tarragon; heart notes are Carnation, Honey, Jasmine, Rose and Ylang Ylang; base notes are Benzoin, Musk, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Vanilla and Ambergris. The best alternatives I found are Expression by Jacques Fath, Tabu by Dana, and Gala by Loewe.
In 1992 the brand Miu Miu was launched with the AW1992/93 collection, and a store on Via della Spiga, Milan opened in 1993.
Prada won her first award this year, given to her by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. She also launched a menswear line for Prada.
1993 also saw her found the PradaMilanoarte (later renamed Fondazione Prada/Prada Foundation) with Bertelli – a nonprofit organization to support up-and-coming artists, designers and architects.
In 1995 she won two more awards: ‘Designer of the Year’ from the CFDA, and the VH1 Fashion Award for Womenswear Designer of the Year.
The brand gained overnight notoriety after Uma Thurman, styled by Barbara Tfank, wore a lilac Prada dress on the red carpet to the Oscars that year where she was nominated for an Oscar for her work in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
She again won VH1 Womenswear Designer of the Year in 1996. She and Bertelli merged Prada and IPI to form Prapar BV, later renamed Prada SpA.
This same year, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet featured a number of designer clothes, including a wedding suit custom-made for Leonardo di Caprio by Miuccia Prada.
In 1997, Prada Sport was launched; this would later be renamed Prada Linea Rossa (English: Prada Red Line).
Prada won another Womenswear Designer of the Year award from VH1 in 1998, and in 1999 she collaborated with Donatella Versace to dress the Manchester United team for their FA Cup Final.
In 2000, a Prada cosmetics line was launched, along with eyewear for both Prada and Miu Miu, but the most notable release was the Bowling Bag.
This was launched in Spring/Summer 2000, and became the “it” bag of the season. It’s been relaunched again since then, for example as seen here in black and white for Resort 2020.
Prada won more awards in the 2000s: in 2003 she won the André Leon Talley Award for Lifetime Achievement, and in 2004 her second CFDA International Award. In 2005 she was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, while in 2006 she was made an Officier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, by the French Ministry of Culture. Time also named her one of their Style & Design Visionaries in 2007.
She also became the subject of the Waist Down – Skirts by Miuccia Prada exhibition in 2004. This traveling exhibition featured skirts designed by Miuccia Prada and moved from location to location, with the collection changing as it moved. It featured skirts starting from her very first designs in 1988. The inaugural exhibition was staged in the Prada Tokyo Epicenter, and the collection moved to the Peace Hotel in Shanghai next. The following stops were New York, Los Angeles and Seoul.
In 2007, Miuccia again worked in film, contributing costume design for two characters in the CGI film Appleseed: Ex Machina
The following year, the animated short film Trembled Blossoms was released to promote Prada’s Spring/Summer 2008 collection, working with illustrator James Jean.
In 2010, Prada was again involved in costume design, this time for the Verdi opera Attila, staged at the New York City Metropolitan Opera House.
2012 saw both Miuccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli featured in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, an exhibition hosted by Anna Wintour, Carey Mulligan, and Prada herself. A book about the exhibition exists but it’s out of print – you can see a preview here. This image features an excerpt of an interview with Miuccia Prada.
More awards came also: in 2013, she won the first ever International Designer of the Year at the 2013 British Fashion Awards, in 2014 she was named the 75th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes, and in 2015, Fashion Innovator of the Year by Wall Street Journal Magazine.
In 2015 she was also awarded the Knight of the Grand Cross, Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. The following year, Glamour USA gave her the Woman of the Year award, and in 2017 Forbes announced her as 79th most powerful woman in the world. In 2018, she was awarded once again at the British Fashion Awards, this time being given the Outstanding Achievement Award by the British Fashion Council.
Prada worked with Baz Luhrmann once again in 2013 for The Great Gatsby, in collaboration with costume designer Catherine Martin, creating 1920s-inspired costumes for the film. That year she also modelled for LOVE magazine, wearing clothes designed by herself.
The Pradasphere exhibition took place in Harrods, London, and in Hong Kong. An accompanying book was published.
In 2014, Prada stepped down as chairman of the commpany, and took on the role of co-Chief Executive, along with her husband Patrizio Bertelli. The year also saw the pair being investigated by Italian prosecutors for possible tax evasion after the company disclosed undeclared taxable income. The company’s accountant was also named in the investigation. Prada and Bertelli went on to pay €420M to Italy’s tax agency.
For the Spring/Summer 2018 collection, Prada referenced a number of female artists, including Tarpé Mills (who had been the first woman to create a female superhero) stating, “It’s especially for women, because there’s so much against us, still.”
The collection was noted for its combativeness, with Prada going back to her feminist roots.
In 2019, the nylon bags that had been a hit decades prior were re-released as the Prada Re-Nylon collection, this time using ECONYL® yarn for increased sustainability.
From the Prada Re-Nylon website: “Prada Re-Nylon is entirely crafted from a regenerated nylon created through the recycling and purification of plastic collected from oceans, fishing nets, landfills and textile fibre waste globally. Through a process of de-molymerization, purification and then transformation into new polymers and then threads, this material can be recuperated and made into new nylon fabric.”
The new iteration of the nylon bags was an instant success, including with models Bella Hadid and Kylie Jenner.
In 2020, Raf Simons was announced as co-Creative Director of Prada, with equal responsibilites to Miuccia Prada for creative decision-making.
That year, Miuccia Prada began a series of online conversations on Instagram Live, talking about fashion and culture, donating the proceeds from each talk to UNESCO.
That brings us to today, where Miuccia Prada is celebrating her 74th birthday and the continued success of her brands – Lyst ranked Prada and Miu Miu at the top of its 2023 Q1 list of the hottest brands, beating Moncler at #3, Valentino at #4 and Loewe at #5 – happy birthday!