What do Miuccia Prada, Rei Kawakubo, Ann Demeulemeester, Uma Thurman, Marina Abramović, Yoko Ono, Tracey Emin, Jenny Holzer, Debbie Harry, and FKA Twigs all have in common? Aside from being some of the most pioneering women to work in their respective creative industries, they also feature — along with various others — in an intimate new hardback by Mexican-American artist Hugo Huerta Marin.
Huerta Marin, who works a day job as the art director at Abramović’s art studio, began work on Portrait of an Artist: Conversations with Trailblazing Creative Women seven years ago. Inspired by female artists who have "shifted the culture by shaking the structures of our established belief systems," he traversed the globe to speak to his interview subjects in their homes and workspaces. Race, gender, and politics are just some of the subjects that crop up over the course of 450 pages.
Each never-before-published conversation is accompanied by an equally candid polaroid that offers an informal portrait of each woman in her natural state. Industry titans they might be, but they're also people at the end of the day.
Ahead of the book's release, Highsnobiety is thrilled to present an exclusive edited excerpt from Huerta Marin's fascinating sit-down with none other than Mrs. Prada. Read them discuss everything from mime to politics to luxury fashion below, and order your copy of the book here.
Hugo Huerta Marin: Let’s start at the beginning. Before joining the family business, you received a PhD in political science. Do you think politics influenced the way you started designing?
Miuccia Prada: One of the things that I was involved in before joining the company was politics. I had joined the women’s rights movement and was part of the Unione Donne Italiane [Italian Women’s Union]. I was raised to be political, and in the end, politics are really what I carry with me deep down. In a subtle way, I try to bring them to my work.
HHM: You were also trained as a mime. How did this training influence your work?
MP: I do not think it did particularly. It was just a result of the curiosity I had when I was young — to know what was going on, what was new, what was interesting, what was exciting. The Piccolo Teatro was very influential and it was during a time when ideas were changing, new theater, new ... everything. The people and the ideas that circulated influenced me more than the training. The only thing that might have influenced me was the discipline. You needed a lot of discipline to be there — one day of training could consist of just learning how to move your hand back and forth.
HHM: It seems to me that you have an anti-establishment position in fashion. Would you say there is a sense of resistance in your work?
MP: Yes. Resistance is a word that I like a lot. What it means is very complex. I share thoughts with artists because they provide resistance. Clothes were part of the protest, but the origins of those protests go deeper.
HHM: To me, it is interesting to think about clothes as a political tool.
MP: Is fashion political for you?
HHM: Yes, it can be. I can think of Gestapo uniforms...
MP: I was thinking of Louis XIV dressing himself to control politics in the [Roberto] Rossellini movie [The Rise of Louis XIV]...
MP: Fantastic film.
HHM: I can also think of the punk movement. How can a piece of clothing be political?
MP: You can try to look political in your clothes. But of course, in a very soft way, you should dress according to your thoughts; I always say that you should not dress as a sexy bombshell to conquer a rich man, only if that is how you feel. It should not have a purpose. What has a lot to do with politics is your mind, not what you choose to wear. Who cares? I always say that you can wear whatever you want, because it is a free choice. I do not think there is a politically correct dress code — there were times I went to demonstrations wearing Saint Laurent and vice versa. In the end, any gestures can be political. Politics are much more than clothing.
HHM: Yes. But I also think there have been a few moments in history when the language of a culture was shifted by clothes. Do you think fashion can still be that revolutionary?
MP: I think that is a reaction. What I am trying to say is that some people complain that nothing new happens in fashion anymore, but fashion reflects what is happening in society. At the time of the miniskirt, there was the women’s revolution, people reacting politically, intellectually, and also in terms of clothes. Clothes were part of the protest, but the origins of those protests go deeper.
HHM: What are your thoughts on the concept of uniforms?
MP: I have always loved uniforms because they can set you free from having to care about and choose what to wear. I was preoccupied with the concept a few years ago. Even if I’ve never made them for my shows, I love them because in them you can hide who you are. You are free, liberated. I always say that clothes can help you, mainly when you are in a good mood (laughs). When you are in pain or suffering, or when you are sick — when tragedy hits — you could care less about fashion.
HHM: How has Prada changed as fashion houses have expanded? Is there a moment when you think a big house becomes too big?
MP: No, I never thought that. I enjoy the idea of expanding because I have always thought that the idea of making clothes for a small group of chic and sophisticated people is limiting. That is too easy for me, and being confronted with the big world outside is so much more exciting and challenging. I am very interested in that because it is difficult.
Now, with so-called globalization, in theory, you should know about everything, everywhere. You try to catch part of something or all of it, because you are obliged by your job to do so. I also very often say, whenever I have conversations with artists at the Fondazione [Prada], that I am very proud of my job because it is the only thing that obliges me to be in touch with reality. Art is more theoretical — you can say and do whatever you want. When it comes to fashion, you have to really confront yourself. Sometimes you believe something is fantastic, but no one wants it. Other times, people want something you hate. These confrontations are really interesting because you learn something.
HHM: It’s interesting to think about it even from a cultural point of view — how in some places, designers are restricted in the way they design clothes: You can’t show the legs in some countries, bodies are smaller in China and bigger in Eastern Europe, you can’t show nipples in America, and so on.
MP: In fact, political correctness can also be a limitation on creativity, but it is very interesting, When it comes to fashion, you have to really confront yourself because if the group you are designing for is small, you can do whatever you want. Now, there are so many different audiences and instinctively, you just go with it, because it is a form of respect. Some people would say that we are taking away freedom, but I think you should respect the views of others. It is a big issue, but again, an interesting one.
HHM: I am also curious to know how a fashion house can understand the concept of luxury, particularly when it comes to the Eastern and the Western market.
MP: I must say that the concept of luxury is very similar everywhere (laughs).
HHM: You have said, “Fashion never opened itself to the ‘ugly.’” Do you think things have changed over the years? That we are witnessing more of an aperture to the strange and the bizarre?
MP: When I started my job, there was a kind of taboo about that. I found it wrong, because everywhere in film, in art, in theater, there was the nasty and the ugly. And that was the most interesting part. But in fashion? Only beauty, bourgeoisie, perfection. As a fashion I like beauty, but I am much more interested in ideas designer, I always wanted to break those rules and introduce “real life” into fashion. The task is not yet done, because so far, fashion still tends to expose classic beauty. For me, exploring beyond that concept was simply natural. What is the exact meaning of beauty?
HHM: Also, Prada’s cultural recognition extends beyond fashion.
MP: Yes, I believe so. I ascribe relevance to different things. My ideas are political, and that means I struggle for whatever they stand for — for culture, for understanding, for equality, and so on. And the instrument I have is fashion, and I also have the Fondazione. I actually had to develop that because fashion was not enough of an instrument (laughs). I always used to say that to be a fashion designer was the worst. I was ashamed for a very long time. But later, I decided that it was the instrument I had, so I tried to practice what I believed through my company. In fact, we always try to expand to culture, architecture, movies — we try to move, to give more substance, to give more food for thought. For instance, there is Miu Miu’s Women’s Tales, a continuous collaboration with female directors to whom we give a platform to produce and showcase their ideas on feminity and vanity. It is a place for conversations about these subjects. In general, I would say that I like beauty, and I am very interested in the aesthetics of art, architecture, design, or whatever it is, but I am much more interested in ideas.