I’m Starting to Worry About Prada

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Prada is deeply fabulous. It’s certainly the most cerebral luxury label in existence; Miuccia is a great, eclectic thinker (the woman has a PhD and was once a communist and a mime) and has built an empire on making everything ugly suddenly and quietly fresh, chic, and sophisitcated. Think of the pop-cultural cache Prada has acquired: the devil doesn’t wear Chanel or Fendi or even Hermès – it’s unthinkable! – she could only wear Prada because she is sly and brainy and utterly wicked.

But Prada has coasted on this cultural awareness and positive name recognition for the last few years, and has made some strategic blunders because of it. The first misstep was to try to situate Prada as an Italian Hermès or Chanel, pushing the shoes and bag sales and downplaying the apparel, which is their biggest strength. This was an idiotic and, frankly, lazy move. The Galleria tote, while classic in shape, doesn’t have the historical ladylike appeal of a Lady Dior, the aesthetic perfection of a Kelly or Birkin, or even the modern cool of a Saint Laurent Sac De Jour or Balenciaga Le Dix. It should never have been a selling staple. Prada’s classic pumps are lovely, but a more flashy consumer is going to buy the Louboutins, the cooler consumer the Saint Laurents, and the more classic consumer the Manolos (though she would consider the Pradas).  These types of  items are pillars of the brand, certainly, but cannot prop up the label on their own.

The second disaster was to expand too rapidly, especially in Asia. Prada currently has over 600 stores across the globe (Chanel has 120, Hermès has 311) and has saturated the market. Whose idea was this? Have they never heard of exclusivity? What on earth?

Because of the strategy to become an luxury brand in the highest, almost unreachable echelon and, simultaneously, pulling a Coach circa-2005 move and flooding the market, Prada now finds themselves with plummeting share prices and quickly-dropping margins.

How can Prada fix this? Let me count the ways.

First, they need to shutter about half of their stores.This will be an embarrassing  admission of defeat, but it’s necessary to move forward. It just has to be done.

Secondly, they can shift some of their focus back to the incredible apparel that Miuccia creates season after season. It’s less accessible than a bag or a shoe, but will certainly appeal to some bands of buyers that are ignoring Prada for the visual confections coming out from Gucci or Dolce & Gabbana.

Next, they need a cult item. This is where the bags and shoes can come back in. Prada needs an equivalent to the Céline Phantom or Valentino Rockstud. Something that is coveted and receives blog attention, highly-priced but still accessible, and draws focus back to the label as a whole, which brings buyers back to the apparel as well as the accessories. They an also capitalize on 90s nostalgia, their heyday, when creating and advertising this item.

It would also be a great idea for Prada to move into cosmetics – they are the only major luxury brand (that doesn’t specialize in leather goods) to not have one. They need to situate a line in the price range of Chanel with the quirk of Marc Jacobs, or they could give sister brand Miu Miu a line,and have even more fun with it at a slightly lower price point. This will be a great way for everyone to get a piece of Prada without creating a state of emergency by overloading the market. And don’t forget the profits –  labels make serious cash on their cosmetic lines, which would help Prada offset the current slump.

Prada is too good, too unique, too culturally iconic to let dwindle into Coach-dom. They need to find a way to re-situate themselves, similar to how Gucci has done recently, and embrace their status as a quirky, large-but-not-behemoth luxury brand. Prada is so special, both in the fashion and larger cultural community that no one would want to be a Vuitton when they could be a Prada – and the brand would do well to remember that.

 

Gallery of vintage Prada glory below. Prada keeps an extensive archive of ads and shows here.

 

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