Prada and Raf Simons: What the co-creative director appointment means for the brand and for fashion

Prada and Raf Simons: What the co-creative director appointment means for the brand and for fashion

A new dawn

Editor: Jolene Khor

Illustrator: Harrison Tsui

The fashion world held its breath on the last day of Milan's fall/winter 2020 show season when Prada called an urgent press conference. You might have heard by now that the breaking news of the occasion is the announcement that Belgian designer Raf Simons would be joining the Prada brand as a co-creative director, working as a creative equal with Miuccia Prada. Simons will join Prada with effect from 2 April 2020, and the first collection designed by both Simons and Prada will debut in the spring/summer 2021 collection in Milan come September 2020.

This news comes after intense recent speculation about Raf Simons getting involved with the Prada group, and is something of a major historical appointment. Major fashion brands tend to have space for one big creative name at the top — much less a house where the present designer still has her family name writ large across the brand. Prada and Simons will share equal responsibilities on creative input and decision making, and the brand calls this partnership one born from "deep reciprocal respect" and "an open conversation".

It's something of a match made in heaven, as both designers have been longtime friends and noted admirers of each others' work. Both, in fact, are seminal designers that have individually defined large swathes of the contemporary fashion landscape. If history has proven anything, too, it's that both designers' influences are so large that where they go, the industry follows. What both designers share, in particular, is an intellectual approach to fashion. For Prada, that has meant using current events and politics as a springboard to creating aesthetic statements that — because they're sometimes challenging — further the bounds of fashion. Simons, who was originally trained in industrial design before moving to fashion, works with a rigorous and interrogative design process that combines subcultures with fine arts.

The signs were might have already been present since Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons gave an interview to System Magazine in 2016. In it, Prada says: "Could you imagine if, one season, Miuccia did the Raf Simons brand, then I'd go do Marc Jacobs, and Marc would come and do Prada? It'd be so exciting!" As it turns out, Patrizio Bertelli, CEO of Prada Group, had reached out to Simons in 2018, fresh after he had exited his role as Chief Creative Officer of Calvin Klein. There was talk of the future of Prada, and now, lo and behold.

If you look closely at Prada's fall/winter 2020 menswear collection there are some very clear signs of Raf Simons' influence. The cuts of the coats, with the sloped shoulder lines; abundance of bare arms and sweater vests; juxtaposition of chunky boots with tailoring; and simmering sense of youthful rebellion — all Simons signatures that seemed a prelude to the big announcement. To be fair, both brands employ Olivier Rizzo as a runway stylist, which could explain some of the similarities. Nonetheless, the synergistic energies bode well.

To be clear, Miuccia Prada has emphasized that she is not retiring anytime soon, so this will be a collaborative effort. Simons' contract is, significantly, open-ended and without the industry's standard five-year renewal clause. That signals that both Prada and Simons have an intention to make this a lasting partnership. It will be massively interesting for the fashion industry now that two titans have joined forces, a proposition that saw its proof of concept when Dries Van Noten enlisted the couturier Christian Lacroix to work together on a collection. The big difference here is that while that was a one-off project, Prada and Raf Simons joining hands will completely and utterly change the creative process and output from one of fashion's most beloved houses.