Prada steals march on Gucci in fashion war

IF THE much-publicised rivalry between Armani and Versace was the Italian fashion story that dominated the Eighties, the nineties have been all about Prada and Gucci.

These labels are now worldwide multi-million-dollar, empires, seen on everything from perfume to handbags to shoes in their efforts to outflank their rivals. Yet the name of each company is the same as that of the family behind the label, and their struggle to come out on top of all the others would be familiar to any student of Italian medieval history - for Prada and Gucci, you could read Montague and Capulet. All are based in Milan which, beneath its glitzy veneer, is a typical small Italian town where dynasties and family allegiances run deep.

Even in August, traditionally the month when the fashion industry shuts up shop and heads for the coast, Prada was setting its sights on world domination. Last week the group, with sales of more than $1bn (pounds 625m) and stores across the globe, entered the genteel world of traditional British shoe-making by taking an 8.5 per cent stake in Church & Co, purveyor of footwear to the Prince of Wales. It was also reported that the company was moving in on Jil Sander, Germany's most aspirational designer tag, paying $109m (pounds 68m) for a 52 per cent stake. (Sander herself denied any such claim.)

Prada's interest in Church's is just the latest in a series of acquisitions which began last summer, when the company discreetly amassed a 9.5 stake in arch-rival Gucci. It later sold that stake on to French luxury goods conglomerate Louis Vuitton/Moet Hennessey (LVMH ) for a $120m (pounds 75m) profit, the proceeds of which went towards forming an alliance with Austrian-born uber-designer, Helmut Lang.

The family nature of the business can be seen in the Milan mansion of Miuccia Prada and her husband Patrizio Bertelli, where, despite the expensive contemporary art on the walls, children charge noisily about. But the couple are acquiring a reputation as the most ferociously motivated business people in world fashion. Bertelli, the business brains behind the Prada dynasty, is said to control the running of the company to the point where he monitors the distance between phones and keyboards on employees' desks. For her part, Miuccia oversees the design of Prada as well as the younger Miu Miu line and is the all-important front person for both labels.

Like Armani and Versace before them, Prada and Gucci could not be more different. When American designer Tom Ford took the helm of Gucci in 1995, he created the rock chick's label of choice. Gucci is overtly sexy, supremely glamorous and screamingly expensive - the label favoured by "It Girls" the world over.

Prada demonstrates a more dowdy aesthetic: discreet luxury, often subtly embellished with arts and crafts finishing, aimed at a woman who would rather not wear her wealth on her sleeve but is just as monied as her more flashy Gucci sister. Both, however, are equally influential: the British high street would be in a sorry state were it not for the Gucci and/or Prada spin-offs that fill the rails from Warehouse to Marks & Spencer.

Just like LVMH, whose chairman, Bernard Arnault, is regarded as the Rupert Murdoch of fashion, Prada is continually broadening its interests. The husband-and-wife team have put money into contemporary art through the Prada Foundation in Milan's affluent Via Spartaco. Bertelli is also keenly involved with Luna Rossa, the Prada yacht, currently heading towards New Zealand and January's Americas Cup. Prada has invested $40m (pounds 25m)in the challenge, which would be amply repaid if it won, through publicity for its already hugely successful Prada Sport line, worn by all Luna Rossa crew members.

The Prada label has come a long way since Miuccia's grandfather started out making leather shoes and belts in the provincial village of Levanelle, near Arezzo, in 1913. In typical Italian dynasty style, the production core of the company is still based there. In March the construction of a 60,000 square metre building to make room for a further 150 members of staff was announced.

Miuccia herself began designing accessories for the house in the late Seventies, having completed a degree in politics and a brief spell working for Italy's Communist Party. By the beginning of the Nineties the Prada bag, crafted in simple black nylon but boasting the discreet Prada logo etched on to a black metal triangle, was a must-have from the streets of Manhattan to the beaches of Rimini, where a nice line in fakes continues to sell like hot cakes to this day.

A small but perfectly formed clothing line, first for women, then men, followed. Prada is now worn by everyone from Nicole Kidman and Sigourney Weaver to Meg Matthews and Patsy Kensit. On a less obviously glamorous note, the company also provided the suits for the all-conquering Manchester United team earlier this year.

Suggested Topics
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam