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How To Make Nylon Luxurious

By Kames Narayanan

Courtesy of Prada

“I wanted to do something that was nearly impossible, make nylon luxurious. But obviously it made sense to people, because if you think about it now, black nylon is everywhere,” once said Miuccia Prada. 

Ideas of subverting from the norm have long paved the Italian designer’s creative endeavours at the eponymous label she helms. Soon after taking the reigns at the luxury house started by her grandfather, Prada debuted what was set to become an integral slice of its history. The synthetic fibre, known for its industrial use in the Italian army, was woven into a nondescript black nylon backpack. In the early 1990s, the austere carryall rose to It bag status when the excess of the ’80s was sidelined by the grunge movement. 

In the years that followed, Prada integrated the use of nylon from backpacks to ready-to-wear pieces. Her take on luxury, a subversion from the archetypal, has found a permanent place on the brand’s runways. Since the initial launch of the Prada black nylon backpack in the 1980s, nylon has found a permanent place at the house. The use of the technical fabric has in itself evolved with time as new yarns of nylon have been invented and re-invented. In some instances, approached like more precious cashmere or silk and in others, left untouched. 

At the brand’s Fall/Winter ’18 menswear showcase at the outskirts of Milan, nylon made a comeback in a big way. The opening look, a padded shirt-vest hybrid, shorts and bucket hat in the same material, laid the template for the looks that followed. “I am in love with black nylon. I can’t have enough at the moment,” said Prada in a post-show interview with Vogue Runway. Throughout the history of the house, nylon has been dissected into a multifaceted fabric. This season was an investigation into its industrial tactility. 

With nylon, front and centre of the collection, Prada further shines the spotlight on it with a campaign titled “Prada Invites”. As its name may suggest, the campaign invites four celebrated designers and architects, to each interpret Prada’s identity through an item conceived using the house’s signature material. The brief issued to Paris-based designer duo, brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, German designer Konstantin Grcic, Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas called for each creative to approach the fabric by manner of the poetic, practical, technical and aesthetic. 

The “Prada Invites” campaign takes one through the design and innovation process to the eventual conception of the product in a series of sketches and samples. Black and white portraits featuring the creatives, and the final product, juxtaposed against the interim process tell the complete story of how each creation was materialised. Each item later took to the brand’s Fall-Winter ’18 menswear show. 

Courtesy of PradaA studio portrait of Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec.
A studio portrait of Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec.

Ronan Bouroullec and Erwan Bouroullec 

The Bouroullec brothers, Ronan and Erwan, born in 1971 and 1976 respectively, hold the reputation as France’s most influential industrial designer duo. In their 20 years of working together, the brothers have relentlessly investigated an individual’s day to day behaviour within contemporary lifestyles. In response to the observed fluctuating environment of today, the objects that the pair create take on unconventional forms that afford their users copious amounts of freedom in shaping their surroundings. 

A similar approach can be observed in their creation for Prada: An oversized shoulder bag that takes its shape from art folders. “I’ve always liked the profiles of people — architects, painters and students — walking around with art folders; the movement of that rectangle, its clear-cut, fixed geometry contrasting with the moving bodies,” said Ronan. “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,” he continued. 

Courtesy of PradaA sketch of the shoulder bag that the Bouroullec brothers conceived for
A sketch of the shoulder bag that the Bouroullec brothers conceived for "Prada Invites".

While art inspirations are no stranger to the Prada runway, the Bouroullec brothers’ inspirations offer a new perspective in the intermingling of fashion and art. The season’s shoulder bag, joins the Italian house’s repertoire of carryalls that have held a longstanding reputation of its own. Austere and inconspicuous in its plain, all-black façade, riffs off the individualistic traits of the house’s iconic backpack, but in a rigid rectangular shape that holds a bold, distinctive identity of their own.

Courtesy of PradaA portrait of Konstantin Grcic.
A portrait of Konstantin Grcic.

Konstantin Grcic 

In the 20th century, German artist Joseph Beuys holds prominence as one of the art world’s key figures. The man had earned a reputation for an air of curiosity that surrounded his irreverent persona. Amongst them, his choice of uniform: a fishing vest, worn over a white shirt. The eccentricity of a fellow German was the starting point of inspiration to industrial de- signer Konstantin Grcic. 

“The key reference for my proposal is the fishing vest, representing the idea of a bag (which is what the nylon material has been primarily used for) as a garment. My first thought was to recreate Joseph Beuys’ famous fishing vest in Prada black nylon. Later, I worked on two models, which interpret the theme in a more abstract way: Apron and Hood,” said Grcic.

Courtesy of PradaKonstantin Grcic models an unfinished hood and apron hybrid.
Konstantin Grcic models an unfinished hood and apron hybrid.

Grcic established his own practice, Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design (KGID), in Munich in 1991. Under the design house, he has created a visual vocabulary synonymous to simplicity. His process in getting there, much more complex, is characterised by intense study into the study of architecture and design. 

His design for “Prada Invites” draws from the idea of appropriating one object into another. The approach birthed an unconventional garment that in different configurations, could be worn as an apron or a hood. Falling in line with Prada’s offbeat renditions of the rudimentary, the German de- signer’s garment easily finds its place amongst the house’s eccentricities. 

Courtesy of PradaA portrait of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.
A portrait of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.

Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron

In 2001, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron made history as the first architect pair to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, an Oscar equivalent in the realm of architecture. Together, the design luminaries have led their eponymous architecture firm, Herzog & de Meuron, since 1978. 

Throughout the years, the partnership has grown from strength to strength and today its calibre resides in the upper echelons of the architecture industry. The pair have tested the boundaries of architecture throughout their practice, offering alternatives to the contemporary codes of design set by the rest of the industry. A Herzog & de Meuron building, amidst a landscape of other structure, is easily identifiable by distinct exterior. An inspection into art and cultural contexts, the duo’s works, from small scale private spaces to large scale urban designs, transcend functionality, and prompt greater conversations beyond architecture. 

The pair mark their first-ever fashion collaboration with the “Prada Invites” project. Titled “Language Restraint”, Herzog and de Meuron probe the power of language in the contemporary context. And according to the duo, there is not much of it that remains. 

Courtesy of PradaJacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron's initial sketch.
Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron's initial sketch.

“Language has lost its power, its power to persuade people with arguments or to enchant them with the poetry of words,” they argued. “Now language has forfeited its enlightening competence. It has lost its seductive power. There is nothing new, nothing critical, nothing true in language that cannot be turned into its opposite and claimed to be equally true. Language has become an empty vehicle of information. Truths, half-truths, and untruths rub shoulders as equals in our so-called information society.” 

In essence, words bear little meaning to the Swiss architects than mere decorum. “Text is perceived as design, pattern, or decoration, comparable to the once potent symbols and signs, now tattooed onto human bodies without number,” they offered. This message was translated through the medium of a T-shirt and nylon shirt printed with overlaid texts and a jacket subtly decorated with buttons embossed with text. The pieces, on which texts are rendered as illegible and meaningless, display the architect duo’s purview in abstract.

Courtesy of PradaA portrait of Rem Koolhaas.
A portrait of Rem Koolhaas.

Rem Koolhaas 

Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas has long been acquainted with Prada. He is the genius behind the brand’s elaborate runway sets at the seasonal shows located at its headquarters, retail spaces in Los Angeles and New York and the new Fondazione Prada in Milan. 

As a collaborator with the Italian house for more than a decade and a friend of Prada herself, Koolhaas has an innate understanding of the brand’s approach to design and its modus operandi. For “Prada Invites”, Koolhaas looks to the house’s revered icon as a starting point. Dissecting its functionality, he then singled out the greatest inconvenience of the backpack: the fact that it is literally located at the back. 

“In 1984, Prada was singlehandedly responsible for the return of the backpack. The backpack, extremely useful when exploring nature, became the preferred urban personal goods bag,” he said. “The shape of the back- pack has the convenience of flexibility, the location — the back — the huge inconvenience that it is fundamentally inaccessible to the wearer.”

Courtesy of PradaEarly models of the front-facing backpack.
Early models of the front-facing backpack.

With the modern day urbanite in mind, Koolhaas offers an alternative proposal to the classic nylon carryall: one that can be carried on the front instead. Its shape, appropriated for content that is typically taken along from one place to another. 

“This project proposes a reinterpretation of the backpack, more suitable to the contemporary urban citizen. It is carried on the front; its contents are at any time accessible to the wearer. It is divided in compartments, dimensioned to accommodate the devices that enable modern life to unfold, easily unpacked through convenient openings,” he said. 

Koohlaas’ new fangled approached to the backpack could possibly give its predecessor a run for the money.