In Brief

Prada Invites: Rem Koolhaas, Jacques Herzog and Konstantin Grcic join forces with the Italian fashion house

What happened when Prada gave carte blanche to creative superstars including Rem Koolhaas and Herzog & de Meuron

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When Miuccia Prada joined her family's storied business in 1978, she set about experimenting with black nylon. Originally, the thermoplastic hard-wearing material had been used by the brand for simple coverings designed to guard its luggage and travel trunks from marks and stains; the young Prada dreamt up handbags and totes all finished in the industrial-looking tessuto nero, culiminating in the best-selling Vela backpack, which made its debut in 1984. The material has since become a Prada staple. 

For its Milan menswear show in January this year, the brand commissioned a set of creative masterminds to work with its signature fabric. Miuccia Prada gave carte blanche to designing brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, and to prolific industrial designer and one-time trainee cabinet maker Konstantin Grcic, the man behind the best-selling Magis Chair_One, to contribute to its Autumn Winter 2018 menswear collection.

For Prada, Grcic devised a hooded, apron-like garment that doubles as a bag. "My first thought was to recreate Joseph Beuys’ famous fishing vest in Prada Black Nylon", says Grcic. "I worked on two models, which interpret the theme in a more abstract way: apron and hood".

The Bouroullecs previously finished comissions for brands including Samsung, Vitra and Danish textile giant Kvadrat. At their Paris studio, the brothers and their small team created a slim bag following the shape rectangular shape of art students' portfolios. "This project takes that geometry and instils it in a shoulder bag, with its inside gusset, low fastening, elastic bands and eyelet, and use of a single colour, which produces a subtle graphical playfulness", Ronan Bouroullec explained earlier this year. 

Other invitees are repeat Prada collaborators: Miuccia's marque previously commissioned genre-defining Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron to design its boutiques and warehouses, from Tokyo to Arezzo, Italy and to create the backdrop of her recent Resort 2019 show in New York. For this project, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron have been pondering the meaning of language today, resulting in a small collection of lightweight nylon garments printed with text. Reem Koolhaas and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture OMA firm, too have previously worked with Prada: most recently, Koolhaas added a nine-storey all-white tower to the Fondazione Prada in Milan. 

For Prada Invites, the Dutch architect who moonlights as a professor at Harvard University re-imagined the backpack, since 1984 an emblematic item for the Italian luxury brand. Shaped to be carried on the front, Koolhaas' Frontpack with rounded edges and zipped compartments is designed with practically in mind: all contents are easily accessible, eliminating awkward manoeuvres.

"Today, waiting in line for a typical airport check of carry-on luggage, it is surprising to note how the shapeless container of the backpack, is inhabited by strict, orthogonal devices like the laptop, the charger, books, toilet bag, and how awkward it is to liberate these objects from their containment in the backpack – ropes, straps, velcro – all entry points seem mismatched and underdimensioned", explains Koolhass of his design's motivation. 

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