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Miuccia Prada meets Damien Hirst and makes a creepy bag

Alex Fury

Entomology bag 1 300x225 Miuccia Prada meets Damien Hirst and makes a creepy bag

One of Prada's Entomology bags, created in collaboration with Damien Hirst

Can we take a moment to talk about Prada?

I take quite a few of those on a daily basis actually, but the brand has been especially active of late. I’m not talking about their spring 2014 fashion show, although as ever it was season-defining.

You know if Prada has a weak season, because the whole of fashion feels the lurch, the lurch of one of the big four not pulling their weight. The others, arguably, are Marc Jacobs in New York, Christopher Kane in London and – until recently – Nicolas Ghesquiere’s Balenciaga. These are the names that really matter.

In 1989, John Fairchild (then publisher of Women’s Wear Daily and W) declared that six designers made fashion, and from them “all fashion hangs by a golden thread”. In 1989 they were Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Christian Lacroix, Emanuel Ungaro, Karl Lagerfeld and Vivienne Westwood.

Today it’s Marc, Miuccia and Christopher. There are probably a few others. If Nicolas Ghesquiere moves to Louis Vuitton, as has been widely rumoured, he’ll be back up there. Raf Simons’ influence is also extensive. I personally didn’t comprehend quite how extensive until Jo-Ann Furniss of style.com, who works closely with Raf at Dior, drew my attention to the similarities between the African elements in his winter haute couture collection for Dior and those popping up over other catwalks, two months later, for spring 2014. I felt a bit of an idiot. It was quite obvious.

Anyway, back to Prada. Today the label revealed their collaboration with Damien Hirst. It’s kind of a counterpart to Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with the Chapman Brothers that I wrote about a month or so ago. In that its most obvious physical embodiment is a handbag.

Prada and Hirst have also created a Pharmacy Juice Bar, installed in the desert north of Doha, Qatar like a UFO or some kind of mirage. A juice bar is exactly what you want in the Arabian desert after all. Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani, chairperson of Qatar Museums Authority (QMA), is the third hand in this collaboration. It was launched to mark “Relics”, a major retrospective of Hirst’s held in QMA.

They also created a “Prada Oasis,” a shop containing the Hirst/Prada collaborative handbags. It reminds me of Prada Marfa, the shop-cum-sculpture by Elmgreen and Dragset in Marfa, Texas. That’s a faux shop that displays real Prada wares which cannot be bought. This was a real shop, displaying the Hirst/Prada handbags. Those could be bought. Sort of. They were sold via silent auction yesterday.

Prada Oasis and Damien Hirst Pharmacy Juice bar 1 300x200 Miuccia Prada meets Damien Hirst and makes a creepy bag

The Damien Hirst Pharmacy Juice bar north of Doha, Qatar

Prada Oasis and Damien Hirst Pharmacy Juice bar 2 300x200 Miuccia Prada meets Damien Hirst and makes a creepy bag

Prada's Oasis - a Prada shop with nothing to sell. Sort of. Again, in Qatar.

It’s another extension of the idea of fashion meeting art. I participated in a discussion today with, amongst others, the milliner Stephen Jones, who reasoned that “art” has replaced “luxury” as fashion’s favourite tag-on to elevate itself. The idea being that if you can appreciate art and fashion, and pay for both, you’re somehow elevated higher than the poor saps who can just flash the cash without proper appreciation.

It’s an interesting idea, especially given that these art-meets-fashion Hirst/Prada wares are more art than any before. The Chapman Brothers Louis Vuitton bags were limited run – but I’m not sure how limited. Hirst’s Prada bags are limited to 20. Ever.

Entomology bag 2 300x225 Miuccia Prada meets Damien Hirst and makes a creepy bag

Another Prada/Hirst buggy bag

The bags themselves are also rather uncompromising, containing real insects trapped inside a plexiglass shell- the Campanotus giganteum, the Nephile pilipes, the Prosopocoilus occipitalis, the Eupholus cuvieri , and the Pachyrhyncus orbifer. As the Prada release helpfully states. There are some Kafka references tossed about too. The exterior of the bag is embroidered with representations of the interior species. It’s a recognisably Prada shape too, boxy and old lady-ish.

In fact, lots of this is recognisably Prada. The shape, the materials (Miuccia Prada has a fondness for Plexiglass and PVC), even those embroidered bugs have antecedents in Prada collections. For winter 1999 she showed coats, skirts and boots dotted with three-dimensional foliage. Many also featured crystal insects. A true collaboration. The bag is dubbed “Entomology”, which means the study of insects. It’s rarely been fashionable.

The interesting thing, for me, is that Prada is as big a pull as Hirst. This isn’t about a fashion brand trying to make themselves cool via an artist, or even about a hyper-luxury goods house trying to attract attention by splashing arty doodles on product. It feels like a genuine meeting of minds. The results are quite ugly and difficult. So are lots of Prada clothes, and plenty of Hirst’s art.

Miuccia Prada is a collector – the Fondazione Prada is dedicated to modern art, exhibiting at the Venice Biennale as well as in Milan. A Hirst pickled sheep sits in her Milanese HQ. I can’t help but wonder if these bags will become art in themselves, or if I’ll see them around the next set of fashion weeks.

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