Why is Prada’s ready-to-wear absent from even the most high-end of online stores?

Everyone who loves fashion loves Prada. While other brands are reviewed in an even-handed manner, Prada’s reviews often lapse into a mixture of awe, idolization and hysteria. The consensus seems to be that what Prada says goes, often leading journalists to celebrate things that would’ve been denigrated if someone else had done it. For instance, the fact that Miuccia Prada mixed womenswear with menswear was seen as an artistic gesture, instead of -- as it more than likely was -- a savvy business move. It was even suggested that Prada's last show was a sign that men's and women's shows would eventually merge. Such proclamations ignore the fact that despite all of this gender-blurring hyperbole menswear and womenswear are still two massively different businesses, and combining the two may be unworkable. It’s fair to say that Prada gets people worked up. Even still, we noticed one massive hole in the Prada love: that is the ability to purchase any of its ready-to-wear collections online.

While we don’t expect Prada to be available everywhere, we do expect it to be available somewhere; especially since its contemporaries have wide distribution on the Internet. If we were to draw up a list of brands that Prada could comfortably sit alongside we’d include Valentino, Dries Van Noten and Raf Simons. Now we’re not saying these brands are the same, we’re just noting that if you saw them all in the same room it would make sense. Using Selfridges' web shop -- the massive department store cum weirdly terrible TV series with Ari Gold -- as a template, we see that Valentino, Dries and Raf all sell ready-to-wear, while Prada only sells eyewear on the site. MR PORTER doesn’t even stock any Prada--although it doesn't stock any Dries, either.

However Prada is stocked in Harvey Nichols, but only its aftershave is available online. Barneys’ e-commerce site has the largest wholesale selection of Prada, but even that doesn’t stretch to ready-to-wear. Other retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom only sell Prada accessories online. Only Three Different, Yoox, Profile and Bluefly have any clothing from the brand, and those selections tend to consist of mostly Prada Sport. Dover Street Market stocks Prada collections, but they're not available online unlike some of DSM's other brands. Prada’s own e-store, which launched in 2010, has the largest selection of clothes, but even that doesn't have any ready-to-wear. So why the reticence?

One preliminary answer is the old "luxury doesn’t sell online" argument. We find that to be an ever-weakening dispute as there are very few brands that have absolutely no presence online. Most brands, even if they don’t have their own e-store, sell to a few high-end e-tailers they can trust. To try and understand why Prada doesn't we looked at its annual reports:

In 2013, Prada Group, which is comprised of Prada, Miu Miu, Church’s (bought in 1999) and Car Shoe, wrote in its annual report that 84.5% of its sales came from its own stores, while 15.5% came from wholesale channels. To use a comparison: In Kering’s 2012 report, it noted that Saint Laurent Paris generated a respectable 60% of sales from its own stores. And, even though this was the year before Hedi Slimane took over, it’s fair to assume that Saint Laurent probably hasn't changed its sales strategy that drastically. So without getting too "BoF,"  the reason you don’t see Prada’s ready-to-wear anywhere is by design, not by coincidence. Prada has even stated that it only sees wholesale channels as "additional points of sale," which differs hugely from how a brand that generates 40% of its revenue from wholesale would see things. When we reached out to a buyer, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity, his first response was, "I can't see [Prada] wholesaling any time soon."

Prada's report also notes that its wholesale is reviewed with the aim of being more selective, not less. Prada chooses its wholesalers based on prestige, which might explain why you haven’t seen relatively young stores like MR PORTER or East Dane stocking Prada. The report’s key point is that Prada stores are the best place for Prada, and that showing its wares by other means should be done with extraordinary care.

So basically, Prada isn’t available online because it doesn't want to be. What’s even more interesting is that this approach puts the brand in a unique position when it comes to wholesale growth. Prada’s "treat them mean, keep them keen" approach has catapulted it to the number one spot on buyer wish lists. One buyer even said, "You can't ever ignore the relevance of a house such as Prada."

And, with its cachet and political power in the industry, the pitfalls of wholesale (namely not getting paid on time, or at all) are unlikely to happen to Prada. What buyer would risk not getting a ticket to the next show? So, if Prada opens its wholesale channels in any way, the room for growth is huge. In short, the brand is in a position most businesses would kill to be in. Prada is essentially the fashion equivalent of an MVP candidate who still has massive upside. Perhaps it's precisely this exclusivity that keeps Prada so desirable--the buyer we spoke to said, "[Buying Prada] is a conversation we would always have. It has maximum prestige."

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