Prada bets on star designer to revolutionize its look

Prada SpA has appointed Belgian designer Raf Simons as the company’s new co-director, in an unprecedented shake for the Milanese fashion giant.

Simons, who was previously chief designer of the Calvin Klein and Christian Dior will work side by side with Miuccia Prada, the brand’s flagship designer and executive co-director. Its hallmark of sporty and bourgeois appearance has driven the success of the brand.

“I feel great commitment and emotion,” Prada told the media at a press conference in Milan. The 70-year-old designer insisted that the decision was not a sign that she was preparing to resign. “This is not a succession. This is a way to boost creativity.”

Prada returned to the path of growth in 2018 after several years of falling sales, but the recovery has faced new difficulties in recent months, such as political protests in Hong Kong, a key core of luxury shopping, and the coronavirus outbreak that has put the brakes on the expense of major Chinese customers. Chinese buyers account for more than a third of luxury spending and two-thirds of the industry’s growth.

Shares rose 3.5% in Hong Kong on Monday morning, but soon cut profits and entered negative territory, with the market in general.

Simons, known for his conceptual parades inspired by youth subcultures such as punk and rave, has long been a respected figure in the fashion industry. At the end of 2018, he left Calvin Klein after less than two years in the group, as his catwalk collections failed to revitalize demand in the most affordable divisions of underwear and jeans manufacturers.

“A change of designer could rejuvenate the brand and help it catch up with the growth trends of other leading luxury brands,” analysts at Jefferies Financial Group Inc., led by Anne Ling, wrote in a comment, adding that Investors believe that the possibility of the company becoming an acquisition target is remote.

While creative directors rely on generous resources behind the scenes to design and market collections, Prada’s initiative is a bold attempt for two great stars to share power at the top.

Simons said he expected the collaboration to send “a message to the world that we should not forget creativity.”

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