Miuccia Prada: All about Miu

For her latest Miu Miu collection, Miuccia Prada takes a typically maverick approach to sportswear. Susannah Frankel reports
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I wanted to take sport in a new direction," says Miuccia Prada of her autumn/winter collection for Miu Miu and, true to her word, she has certainly done just that. Based loosely – very loosely – on the type of block-coloured, streamlined uniform more readily associated with jockeys than anything more obviously fashionable in intention, felt morphs with jewel-coloured duchesse satin, sequins and lace, all moulded rather than fitted to the body – well, this is the hand of Miuccia Prada, after all – to ever more disorienting effect.

To drive the athletic message home, for the show, each model had her initials embossed in leather on her jacket – how cute is that? – and, for good measure, also wore a close-fitting interpretation of a riding hat. Suffice it to say that the average horse-woman would only ever be so lovely in her dreams. The end result, then, is typically playful – although any overt referencing belies the fact that, as always, when taken apart, this is a collection of extremely desirable clothes.

Of the Miu Miu label in general Miuccia Prada once told me: "Miu Miu is always more about fashion than Prada, more about atmosphere, more sensual. It's light and free. Not serious. Age is not really fundamental; the spirit is more important than age. It's more the idea and the spirit that counts."

For a long time, Miu Miu – which, of course, is named after its creator and was launched in 1993 – was shown at the tail-end of the Milan collections, after Prada. It's small wonder that it was therefore somewhat overshadowed by what was then widely perceived as its big sister. That is the case no longer. In an unprecedented move, for the autumn/winter 2006 season, shown a little over two years ago now, Miuccia moved Miu Miu to Paris, and her wish that it be seen as a separate identity, a main fashion line in its own right, was granted.

It says quite something of the fundamentally contrary nature of this designer that, although taking her place in the fashion capital of the world, she went against the grain for her debut, aiming for a look which she herself cheerfully described after the show as "trashy".

"Now I am showing in Paris," she said not long afterwards, "I am afraid of looking too Parisienne, too couture, too grand. In Paris you have to compete on a different level but it's important to preserve the original essence of the label."

In building up Miu Miu's profile to the point where it might almost appear to be in direct competition with Prada, Miuccia Prada and her husband (and Prada CEO) Patrizio Bertelli, are breaking the mould. Recent fashion history decrees that big-name designers have a main line – which they inevitably show on a catwalk – and a second line that, more often than not, is unveiled in more low-key style, in the form of a showroom presentation, if that. By moving Miu Miu to Paris, Miuccia Prada is affording the line a status that rivals Prada's. And that is a supreme sign of confidence on the part of this designer. "I put things in Miu Miu that I can't in Prada," she always says. "It is another, more spontaneous expression of my universe."

What Miuccia Prada refers to as the spirit of Miu Miu would be described, in fashion speak at least, as the label's DNA – and Miu Miu's DNA is more irreverent than Prada's. Where Prada footwear, for example, may seem discreetly distorted, Miu Miu's is more likely to appear plain orthopaedic. Miu Miu has also in the past been home to patent leather hair bands in Crayola colours, granny bags, pleated school-girl skirts and fabrics that look as cheap as the proverbial chips but are, of course, anything but. Miuccia Prada herself is particularly proud of that fact.

"When I started Miu Miu it was all in synthetic fabrics. There were all these little nightgowns. They were a bit like the uniform of the girls who do the shampoo-ing at the hairdresser," she says. "Of course, I couldn't go back to that so, for the first season in Paris, the fabrics looked cheap but they were, in fact, extremely expensive."

The junior hairdressers, saucy secretaries and doll-like French maids of past seasons have now been supplanted by something more modern in flavour – in its cool and highly contemporary sportiness, in fact, the latest collection is more in line with the emancipated spirit of the late Coco Chanel.

The poster girl for the current season – in the past, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kirsten Dunst and Lindsay Lohan have all been awarded that accolade – is the French actress and singer Vanessa Paradis.

"As the current manifestation of the brand's tradition of highlighting individual and unique women, Vanessa Paradis reflects a certain highly stylised and powerful independence," say the creative team behind this particular set of images, which are shot by the photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott. "The campaign addresses the exploration of beauty in conjunction with intellect, imagination and divergence."

This could, quite reasonably, be the mantra for the Miu Miu label as a whole.

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