While major-league designers such as Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani have cashed in on their singular, predictable vision, Miuccia Prada has made her creative idiosyncrasies pay off. If the rest of the fashion world says "color," she will present an all-black collection. Last spring, when the industry was leaning toward something light and luxe for fall 2007, Prada delved into the abstract realm of fabric research and came up with shellacked mohair twinsets, thick gabardine coats and footless socks. Even her handbags were offbeat: they looked like Dopp kits but were held like a clutch.
Miuccia Prada, who is in her late 50s, is the granddaughter of the house's eponymous founder, Mario Prada, a Milanese luggagemaker. Miuccia has taken her family's name and spread it far and wide, applying it to everything from bamboo-heeled shoes to rubber-soled sneakers, gazar skirts and tie-dyed sweaters. In the process, she has been consistent for the most part only in her fearlessness. "When they tell me something won't sell, that is when I want to make it," she has often said, alluding to her choices in fabrics and silhouettes.
Her knowledge of fashion comes from her closet and her quirky personal style. Growing up in an affluent Milanese family, Miuccia was wearing Courrèges and Yves Saint Laurent by the time she was a teenager. After graduating from college with a degree in politics, she studied mime but eventually moved into the family business in the late '70s and subsequently turned it into a $2 billion conglomerate. Her ability to marry the functional with the radical has inspired such influential trends as clothing made of techno fabric, 1950s housewife dresses cut from nylon and, of course, the ubiquitous nylon backpack.