• Anne Heaney, Director

How Prada is Riding Nostalgia and 'Ugly Fashion' to Turnaround Blitz

Prada’s bowling shirt is so ugly the New Yorker called wearing it an act of “performance art.” The Frankenstein-style mash-up of garish prints, with a flame motif creeping up the bottom, costs $1,200 and happens to be the shirt of the summer, sported by actor Jeff Goldblum, rapper Pusha T and street-style bloggers at fashion weeks around the world.

Prada has returned to growth this year after three years of slipping sales and a collapse in profit. While much of the turnaround is due to a buoyant Chinese market that’s also lifted French luxury conglomerate LVMH and Gucci owner Kering, it’s also thanks to an effort to reinforce Prada’s unique brand identity. The label has reissued its most iconic products, including nylon belt bags, block-heeled loafers, comic-book images and even more recent successes like the banana print.

Commenting on first-half results last week, Chairman Carlo Mazzi said Prada was working to “adapt to rapidly changing times and to interpret the spirit of new generations without losing sight of our roots.” The brand increased spending on social media to educate new customers about its aesthetic, he said.

The banana motif harks back to a 2011 show that underlined Prada’s ability to set the fashion agenda. It proposed an improbable mix of strictly tailored pencil skirts, ruffles and tropical prints, with smears of blinding highlighter hues. Within a few months the collection had landed on the covers of more than a dozen top magazines — sported by the likes of actress Amanda Seyfried, singer Robyn and Vogue editor Anna Wintour — and banana earrings, leggings and blouses invaded retailers from London’s upmarket Harvey Nichols to the Topshop chain.

Prada isn’t the only brand tapping into customer nostalgia by pushing classic looks online: LVMH’s Christian Dior this summer announced the return of its early-2000s saddle bag line by asking style bloggers from around the world to post snaps of the satchel on Instagram at the same time. In September, Versace showed a “tribute” collection with updated versions of founder Gianni’s most memorable looks, closing the show with a reunion of 1990s models including Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer and former French first lady Carla Bruni.

Bringing back the house’s most challenging prints is a way of asserting Prada’s domination in the current climate.

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