Miuccia Prada: The Rites Of Fashion And A Search For Beauty

Up close and inside the mind of the Italian designer, who is set to be honored with a show of her creations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Prada's New York storefront (mell242)
Prada's New York storefront (mell242)
Gianni Riotta

MILAN - The Devil wears Prada, but Miuccia Prada wears the crown of the first woman in fashion ever to be honored with an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Until now, only French designer Yves Saint Laurent had been honored by the Met with a solo exhibition during his lifetime. From May 10, Miuccia Prada will share the neoclassical rooms of the Fifth Avenue museum with Elsa Schiaparelli, the iconic Italian designer of the era between the two World Wars. Schiaparelli's inspirations were modern artists such as Salvador Dalì, Alberto Giacometti, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp. Prada draws from post-modern creators, such as journalist turned into architect Rem Koolhass, sculptor Eliseo Mattiacci, and video artist Nathalie Djurberg.

Miuccia Prada is proud of the forthcoming exhibition. "I am ambitious, and of course this is a great honor," she says. She is thrilled to see displayed pieces that she created working at her desk. "There, I am always alone, I can let my imagination run wild, and shut myself off from everything else," says Prada. "I never think that our clothes will be worn in real life. When I draw I don't think about the physical body. I create an illusion of beauty and style, like, in the Renaissance, Brunelleschi and the others dreamed an ideal and rational city, where every building was part of the general harmony. You know what? I always think about the body outside of fashion. I think about our suffering, tormented, and aching body."

The body in pain, the cult of beauty and modern narcisism are also the obsessions of director Pedro Almodovar in his last movie "The Skin I Live In," and of the video artist Djurberg who has worked with the Fondazione Prada art gallery.

Power and philosophy

Miuccia Prada also pursues an ideal of beauty. "I hated to make expensive clothes for rich women. I hated that it was just a big game of business and profits. I threw myself into arts to look for aesthetics and principles. Then, I added ideas and philosophers," she says. "But beauty keeps me going. I went back to arts, and not just to the contemporary arts. Now, I think about working on classics, Greek and Romans. We may surprise some people."

Seated at her desk, in the brightly lit Prada headquarters in the center of Milan, Madame Prada shows two sides. There is the businesswoman who Wikipedia cites as "the second most powerful woman in the world of fashion, according to Time magazine, and among the 20 richest people in fashion and the 300 richest people in the world, according to Fortune magazine."

But there is also the other side, the pure designer, who confesses her true feelings for fashion. "Between the theoretical hatred and the practical love lies the entire path of my life, which is a long and continuous escape from a persona that is not a part of who I am."

When Prada is wearing her multicolored paletot, the rational busineswoman seems to prevail. "When I was young, I questioned the rites of fashion. Then, I got tired of it, because too many people don't take us seriously; as if we didn't export, feed economic growth, as if industry meant just making ball bearings," she says. "Fashion evolves constantly, though. We have to create a model that is liked by Americans and Europeans, but also Russians and Chinese; by Catholics and Muslims alike. The politically correct lens is alway upon us. One more fur, one less shoulder, and the polemics ignite. We are in the business of global culture."

I wonder aloud if it is a bit like Disney, which has created multiethnic characters, such as Aladdin, Mulan and Pocahontas? Like Avatar in 3D?

"Yes, it is. Today sending the models on the catwalk for a fashion show is like creating a video game, a 3D fairytale that kids will dream about on their computers."

Does the crisis change the clothes? "No, it doesn't. They are still anchored in the imagination, aesthetics, and feelings. The crisis changes the markets, though. With a shrinking middle class, the so-called "aspirational" client, the ones who strive to take part in the world of luxury, disappear. Still, the numbers of rich people are increasing in new countries, and we have to reach them everywhere."

I ask her if she ever wears clothes by her competitors. "No, I wear only our things. Maybe, once in a while, I wear an old vintage dress which I've found somewhere. It's easier for you men. A classic suit exudes authority, reliability, and commitment. You notice it in a business meeting with a larger number of men. I'm not speaking about "power dressing," which a few years ago became just an illusion. I'm speaking about the self-confidence which you men show when you dress well. The army uses uniforms and the Church uses vestments. A uniform inspires respect. Casual can become dowdy. And I hate dowdiness."

Prada acknowledges that in Silicon Valley the new power uniform is a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, but adds that "Only Steve Jobs could pull off a look of jeans and a turtleneck."

Her son speaks to Prada about the new economy: "Startups are being launched everywhere, there is a ferment, energy." She says she tends to react more enthusiastically than her hubsband Patrizio Bertelli, the Prada CEO, who cautions their son about the practical side of starting any new company.

"I have never been poor in my life," Prada says. "So to feel well I must seek out that which is beautiful and new, to create and do the things I know how to do…and if I can manage, to be happy for a moment."

Read more from La Stampa in Italian

Photo - mell242

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!