Prada: one of the world’s most powerful women

Despite being described as a "reluctant heiress", Miuccia Prada has taken the reigns of her family's fashion house and made it a global brand. The Local looks at the life of the billionaire designer, on and off the catwalk.

Prada: one of the world's most powerful women
Miuccia Prada on the catwalk in 2005. Photo: Paolo Cocco/AFP

Who is Miuccia Prada?

She is the fashion designer behind the famous Italian brand Prada, founded by her grandfather in 1913.

Why is she in the news?

Prada was the only Italian to make it onto a list of the world’s most powerful women, compiled by US business journal Forbes.

READ MORE: Italian fashionista among most powerful women

Why did she make it onto the list?

Prada has made it to the top of her trade and, as put by Forbes, is ““widely credited with recreating the brand's image, making it synonymous with understated, clean-cut elegance.”
She is also one of the richest people in the world, with a net worth of $10.4 billion (€7.6 billion).

How does she stand out from the fashionable crowd?

Despite being born into the Prada family, she didn’t immediately go into fashion.

Described by Vogue magazine as a “Communist-leaning, Yves Saint Laurent-wearing reluctant heiress”, Prada instead went to Milan University where she studied political science. 

She then began designing accessories for the fashion house, but it wasn’t until the late 1970s that she started taking a greater interest in Prada.

What happened then?

She fell in love. Prada met Patrizio Bertelli, owner of leather goods companies, and became his business partner.

According to her company profile, at this point in her career, “together with Patrizio Bertelli, she becomes the driving force of the development and international expansion of Prada.”

When the couple were not busy taking over the fashion world, they married and had two children.

How has she changed Prada?

Prada stepped into the spotlight at the end of the 1970s with the brand’s first women’s footwear collection, before jumping onto the international scene by opening stores in London, Madrid, New York, Paris and Tokyo.

She put her stamp on the fashion house in 1993 by creating a new brand, Miu Miu, and has since overseen new ventures including Prada sunglasses and mobile phones.

What has she done outside of fashion?

In 1993 she and Bertelli created a cultural foundation, Fondazione Prada, which began by hosting art exhibitions. It has since been expanded to encompass other areas, including architecture and cinema, and in 2011 plans were unveiled for a new exhibition space in Venice.

Has she faced controversy?

Yes. In February, international media reported that an Italian prosecutor had opened an investigation into Prada over alleged tax evasion.

The company reportedly agreed last year to pay around €400 million to the tax authorities, in a deal which would see a holding company transferred from Luxembourg to Italy, the Financial Times said. Prada’s legal team, however, told the newspaper they were not aware of the probe.

How is Prada viewed in the fashion industry?

“She has often led like the Pied Piper, with the fashion pack zigzagging tightly behind,” according to Vogue.

In December, Prada was named International Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards, described as being “renowned for her season-defining collections that consistently set the agenda of the fashion industry.” 

Gywneth Paltrow with Miuccia Prada (@Prada) – winner of the International Designer of the Year #BFA

— BFC (@BFC) December 2, 2013

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Inside the world of Italy’s designer to ‘the 0.001 percent’

Florence-based luxury designer tells of super-rich customers who shop by private jet, and his experience of dressing the Pope.

Inside the world of Italy's designer to 'the 0.001 percent'
Italian luxury designer Stefano Ricci (C) poses with his sons Niccolo (R) and Filippo, during a preview of his Spring/Summer 2020 collection. Photo: AFP

Italian luxury clothing designer Stefano Ricci and his sons are touring the sumptuous Reggia di Caserta near Naples by horse-drawn carriage as they unveil their latest clothing collection.

The tour the vast gardens at sunset, stopping to sip champagne as models in impeccably-tailored suits in grain yellow, flaming red and galactic blue pose near an ancient fountain.

The grounds of the Reggia di Caserta palace  near Naples. Photo: ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

The decision to host an intimate preview of their Spring/Summer Collection 2020 at the UNESCO world heritage site, rather than during Milan's frenetic fashion week, is emblematic of a brand the New York Times dubs “Clothier to the 0.001 Percent”.

The Florence-based menswear and accessories brand, founded in 1972, has outfitted celebrities from Andrea Bocelli to Morgan Freeman and Tom Cruise, as well as world leaders like Nelson Mandela, and even Pope Francis.

The latest collection, which features pinstripe suits, colourful knitwear, field jackets and a tux, is named “King for a Day”.

Models wearing Ricci's creations. Photo: ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

In an era where designer goods can be bought online or snapped up in outlets, Ricci says he offers the world's wealthiest men a personalised experience in buying Made in Italy items created using traditional Florentine sartorial techniques.

“Our customer still needs to experience the emotion, to touch the product. Have it explained to them in person, see the tailor, have his measurements taken, be told a story,” Niccolo Ricci, the company's CEO, told AFP at the preview this week.

“He wants to be pampered for an hour,” he said.

Collected by private plane

“Sometimes we have superstitious customers who want trousers, a suit, shirts for example for important appointments, and given the extremely tight deadlines they give us to deliver the clothes, they send their private plane to get them on time”.

Whether hankering after a 5,050 euro suede jacket or a 1,600 euro silk-and-crocodile baseball cap, the typical client is an “alpha-male”, preferably an outdoorsy type with “a love of antique art”, according to Stefano Ricci.

Stafano Ricci. Photo: AFP

“The Ricci man loves the mountains, the woods, dogs and – I'm not afraid to say it – hunting,” he said.

The bearded designer, 67, a keen hunter himself, says his passion for high-end tailoring is “a virus”.

“When it gets hold of you, you produce more, more, more, until you say 'what the heck can I invent now to better this?'”

His latest challenge? “Creating a material which has a compact structure but is at the same time extremely soft… and luminous, not like polished glass but like the skin of a beautiful young girl”.

“No price limit”

Focusing on the richest segment of society in emerging markets like Russia, China and the Middle East – the brand is about to open a shop in Turkmenistan – has shielded it from factors weighing on sales at other luxury houses.

“We've found there is no price limit if the customer finds himself with a quality product,” Niccolo Ricci said.

READ ALSO: The richest Florence families in 1427 are still rich today

“So even for a suit that costs 25,000 euros, if the customer understands the work that has been done on it, the quality of the fabric, our commitment to sourcing quality raw materials for our exclusive collections, then the customer is on board”.

The 2018 financial year closed with a turnover of 150 million, and the company registered a five percent growth in the first quarter of this year “despite difficulties such as the tariff war between the US and China, (and) Brexit or no Brexit”.

Photo: AFP

“I have been lucky enough to do something I love, to work with my wife, my family, and I've now passed the baton to my sons,” Stefano Ricci says as he stands at the top of a vast marble staircase leading to the royal apartments.

“I design the collections a bit, I give guidelines, I participate in the process, but I'm much more relaxed now”

Among the highlights of his career is a white silk vestment made for Pope Francis in 2015.

“I dressed the pope! I can't do better than that, it's the truth,” he laughs. “I couldn't hope for more”.

READ ALSO: The little-known tax rule that's got the super-rich flocking to Italy