They have adorned bronzed bodies with luxury leather goods since 1913, purveyed sharp-cut suits and red-soled shoes to the stars, and grown into a $10bn global empire with more than 300 stores worldwide. But Prada’s most ambitious project to date has nothing to do with apparel at all. In fact, they’d rather you didn’t mention the clothes.
“We don’t want to pollute the Fondazione with fashion,” says Patrizio Bertelli, the managing director of the clothing conglomerate and husband of its chief designer, Miuccia Prada, sitting in their vast new arts complex in Milan. “That would exploit the artists, and they don’t like being used as an advertising tool.”
Prada and Bertelli take their art as seriously as their fashion, and are keen that their patronage isn’t misconstrued as a marketing ploy for selling handbags.
Established in 1993 as “an outpost to analyse present times”, the Fondazione Prada has staged roaming exhibitions of everyone from Anish Kapoor to Steve McQueen, commissioned installations from the likes of Carsten Höller and Thomas Demand, convened philosophy symposia, produced arthouse films and published 40 books and catalogues. Mrs Prada has even been invited to present the Turner prize.
Four years ago the foundation established a permanent venue on the Grand Canal in Venice, and this weekend it opens a brand new HQ in an old distillery to the south of its hometown. In a scruffy industrial area, beyond the railway tracks and the ring road, now gleams a 19,000 sq m creative playground with twice the gallery space of the new Whitney Museum in New York – a bold symbol of private-sector power, in sharp contrast to retreating public funding of the arts across Europe.
The complex has been masterminded by Miuccia’s go-to architect, Rem Koolhaas, whose practice, OMA, has worked with Prada for the last 15 years – an unusually long time for such a relationship to have continued without reaching the limits of the client’s patience or coffers. Their collaborations have ranged from flagship stores in New York and LA to an ambitious Transformer pavilion in Seoul (which necessitated a complex ballet of three cranes to lift and rotate it between events), to experimental catwalk shows. It has been an energising marriage of minds, the liberal patronage of Prada fertilising Koolhaas’s desire to rewrite the rules from scratch every single time.