Raf Simons is taking his talents to Milan. The Belgian designer will join Prada as co-creative director in April, the brand announced Sunday, with a press release describing an arrangement in which Simons will share “equal responsibilities for creative input and decision-making” with Miuccia Prada. This is as big as news gets in the fashion world: since his departure from the top spot at Calvin Klein in 2018, Simons’ landing spot has been the talk of the industry. And while occasional rumors had him landing with the Milanese brand, Mrs. Prada’s legendary presence loomed large: would she need to step aside to make room for a successor? But, as GQ’s Rachel Tashjian wrote in December, “Mrs. Prada is as proactive and forward-thinking as any designer working today.” Leave it to her to come up with a power-sharing agreement that results in her company—her husband, Patrizio Bertelli, is the CEO—landing one of the industry’s brightest talents.
We are, of course, living in the age of the fashion collaboration, and it’s easy enough to imagine this as a short-lived branding exercise: Raf x Prada. But both figures insist that this isn’t a simple exchange of intellectual property, Simons grafting his silhouettes and references onto Prada’s rock-steady foundation. It’s meant to be something new. “Conceptually, it is also a new approach to the very definition of creative direction for a fashion brand,” the press release—the press release!—reads, “a strong challenge to the idea of singularity of creative authorship, whilst also a bold reinforcement of the importance and power of creativity in a shifting cultural landscape.” And it isn’t a shotgun arrangement: “The contract is forever, there is no end date to the contract,” Miuccia Prada said in a press conference Sunday.
At that press conference, Simons elaborated on the idea behind the new partnership. Bertelli approached him shortly after his exit from Calvin Klein, he explained. They had a relationship—before he ran the show at Calvin Klein and Dior, Simons worked for Bertelli at Jil Sander, then owned by Prada Group. The time was right. Sparks flew. “Miuccia and I had a conversation about creativity in today’s fashion system. And it brought me to open dialogue with many designers, not just Mrs Prada,” he said Sunday. “We have to re-look at how creativity can evolve in today’s fashion system.”
Re-look, indeed: the move is basically unprecedented, from both business and creative perspectives. This isn’t a fledgling brand with two young designers. It’s Prada, and it’s two mature thinkers perhaps at the peak of their powers. But we’ve got a feeling they’ll figure it out. After all, it’s among the most influential figures from menswear’s last decade joining a brand that, lately, has been tossing out hit after hit after hit, and whose intellectual pedigree is as strong as any in fashion. (That said, it’s not all long theoretical conversations over espresso: it’s hard to imagine two designers with starrier stables of celebrity fans—imagine what Timothée Chalamet is doing right now!) Simons will continue to run his own brand, and the duo will make their official debut in September, with the brand’s Spring/Summer 2021 womenswear show.