Prada: A cosmos of its own composed of heavenly bodies set in a complex orbit. A universe of contradictions and endless elaborations— noble causes and base temptations— where idealism meets vanity, intelligence meets passion, fashion meets fiction. Welcome to the Pradasphere.
At 8.30am in the morning, still bleary-eyed and plied with croissaints and coffee courtesy of Pasticceria Marchesi, I’m inclined to believe that very opening sentence because well, it’s Prada. And whatever Miuccia says, it’s golden. I happily took a gulp of the Prada kool-aid and drank it with relish. Yes, Prada has been given the playground that is Harrods, which other brands like Chanel and Dior have enjoyed and taken over previously. But Prada were always going to do it their way. Miuccia, together with the help of 2×4 agency’s Michael Rock, have taken over that 4th floor space (aka my secret buffet spot in London – The Georgian Restaurant does the best carvery in town if you’re up for a pig out) and turned it into a “natural history museum” of sorts, breaking down the components that make up the world of Prada – in other words, Pradasphere. Behind beautiful and ornate glass vitrines, Prada’s world is grouped up into taxonomies – words that exist in the biology of Prada and no where else – words like “Continentalism”, “Femasculinity” and “Excessivity” and then easier to grasp concepts of “Modernity”, “Animalia” and “Figuration”. Your eyes dart from cabinet to cabinet, as you get overexcited over seeing those fairy illustrations from SS08, the lovely guipure lace of A/W 08, that postcard print from S/S 10, the snakeskin and sequins of AW11 etc etc – with practically every piece on every mannequin, you’re able to pick out memorable pieces from key Prada collections because every season, what Miuccia does matters and everything is recognisable even when jumbled up, re-styled and reconfigured into these categories. Full commendation to the team chez Prada and 2X4 who was responsible for the styling which sees dream combos such as SS07 turbans mixed up with SS14 tube socks and SS 11 stacked brogues in the Excessivity cabinet – I’m totes predictable because that was my favourite vitrine out of the lot.
At the back of the room is a video display, jumbling up seasons, to show collections by colour alongside a glass cabinet of the sort of impressive textures and surfaces that have beguiled me over the years. SS07’s bottle caps shimmering and shaking on a dress. SS04’s expert tie dye. SS10’s crystal chain mail. We journalists were floating from cabinet to cabinet, collectively sighing, murmuring things like “How DOES she do it?”, with “she” of course referring to Mrs Prada. My boyfriend very unhelpfully reminded me that he once met her backstage at a show and gave her a continental peck on the cheek too. Gratingly, that sort of encounter doesn’t really mean as much to him as it does to me. I, on the other hand, have only fan-girled her from afar at the British Fashion Awards last year and have never really plucked up the courage to leg it backstage after her Prada/Miu Miu shows, and so she remains one of the few designers that I’ve never really had any physical/speaking contact with.
Flanking these six central displays of Prada’s prowess are further displays showcasing Prada’s origins – a rare opportunity to see the sort of leather goods and objects that Mario and Martino Prada sold i the first half of the 20th century. Then there’s a digital display of Prada’s timeline of evolution, with all its projects, campaigns and shows fully visualised. Supporting the brilliance of the clothes are the the “ephemera” that Prada is particularly good at – invitations, books, press kits – the physical paraphernalia that I always want to keep. On the other side is a whole wall of “Specimens”. No excavated bones or rocks, but instead groupings of Prada’s shoes and handbags, which over the years have been mini-hits in their own right, selling out or causing wait lists. It’s a showcase of variety and vanity that Miuccia actually panders to. She sees no shame in lovely things and so here, there is loveliness abound, seen especially in the cabinet of flora and fauna-themed shoes.
Despite the shiny glass, the formally caligraphed caption labels and the evocation of a look-but-don’t-touch natural history museum, there’s no getting away from it. The lure of everything behind all that glass is exactly why Pradasphere works as a retail/exhibition concept. I came away with pangs of regret over those past collections and a fuming desire to want to seek the past out out (thanks to Bicester Village, eBay and Vestiare Collective!!!) Prada’s past set out in this taxonomic retrospective is just a heady reminder of why you want to invest in Prada’s future, hence why the exhibition leads on to a cushy private lounge – all velvet and plush carpet – pre-selling the pre-fall collection.
If Pradasphere hasn’t fed you enough on a visual level, then you can pop in next door where the balcony room has been transformed into a version of Café Marchesi, the legendary and historic Milanese patisserie, which Prada has a stake in. They’ll be serving Milanese restaurant classics as well as selling a selection of their boxed delicacies. In short, it’s Prada Café and the likelihood is that it will be full to the brim everyday for the duration of its tenancy (until May 29th). Pradasphere also continues with the usual window takeover and ground floor pop-up store to entice you with all that lovely stuff that keeps Prada ker-chin-ing. After a gander around Pradasphere on 4th floor, you’ll gladly want to contribute to those Prada pursestrings. Shallow me is looking for an excuse to buy anything just to nab a Prada x Harrods Pradasphere illustrated shopping bag. That’s the power of Prada.