While your fashion-centric nearest and dearest might agree to disagree on which designers rank as the most influential of the 2000s, one imagines that all lists would include Miuccia Prada and Alexander McQueen who have influenced pretty much everything anyone thinks about fashion.
Youngest granddaughter of Mario Prada, founder of his eponymous luxury goods company, little Miuccia Prada made it quite clear, apparently from the get-go, that her interests lay well outside the life of wealth and privilege offered by her family’s century old business.
With a Ph.D in political science firmly in hand, she embarked on a career as a mime, studying and performing at Milan’s Teatro Piccolo. In rebellion mode still, the 70s found her a known member of the Communist Party and a champion of women’s rights. In 1978, however, a change of heart led her to take up the reins at Prada where her clarity of vision and design aesthetic are seen and felt in clothes that cool, pure and minimalistic with a sense of grace and understated luxury. Under her iron-fisted creative control is an international mega-millions juggernaut that oddly enough, given its intellectual and somewhat elitist approach, has become a household name through the likes of the devilish Miranda Priestly and her penchant for wearing Prada.
Alexander McQueen, on quite the other hand, was born the son of a taxi driver and raised in the meager circumstances of a council flat. Having announced, at a tender age, his intention to become a fashion designer, McQueen earned his reputation for impeccable tailoring through apprenticeships at two of Savile Rows’ oldest and finest bespoke establishments. He went on to employment as a tutor at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design where he ultimately became a student, leaving with a masters degree in fashion design and his graduation collection bought, in its entirety, by Isabella Blow . Known for a sense of fantasy, of drama so often expressed in dark and cruel themes, for tactics designed to shock the unshockable, McQueen’s work is thought to have been driven by his own tortured soul. The rest of the story – all its moments of accolade and acclaim, depression, death and despair – is history.
In knotting the ties that bind these two designers together in creativity, audacity and influence, The Costume Institute at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume moved to mount back-to-back exhibits of their work. In the closing days of its 2011 exhibit, the doors of that venerable institution were kept open after midnight to accommodate the crowds swarming to see the work of Alexander McQueen. Miuccia Prada’s work and her “impossible conversation” with Elsa Schiaparelli will be there until August of 2012. You should go.