Prada in the Desert
Writing for POP 32
with Harley Weir (Photography)
London, December 2014

“As a quasi-apocalyptic mood holds us, and the idea of a worldwide wave of ‘saving‘ the environment shows signs of faltering — too expansive, politically unfeasible — we should rediscover the beauty of the desert: not only as a metaphor of our future, but perhaps as a state we could aspire to: present in unimaginable quantities, distributed over the entire globe, pure, often surprisingly habitable (at least part of the year), they are also easier to protect than more demanding ecologies. A good way to begin our future…” Rem Koolhaas. OMA/Progress. London: Barbican Art Gallery, 2012.

Milan, Prada Spring/Summer 2015. Purple sand is piled in the centre of the room, resting on the carpet that took over the colour of the sand. Gemma Ward appears like fata morgana in the room dressed in dark coat with a collar reviving from the 70s and sharply outlined seams with accompanying voice of a man and the electric guitar from a film The Ballad of Genesis and lady Jaye by Marie Losier. She weaves along the dunes edges and fasten her step in the clog shoes. After six years, couple of movies and a baby, Gemma came out of nowhere (like the dunes occupying space). From wilderness, rather than running down an avenue in Manhattan. From far away Australia, where half of the land is occupied by sand. Is this a Gemma’s return or just a mirage?

Prada Marfa that sits on the expansive non-descriptive horizon of the Highway 90 in Texas, it was a soft introduction to Prada’s nomadic movements. The window shop sculpture installed in 2005 by Elmgreen and Dragset was Prada’s first trip to a dusty and dry desert-like landscape far away from Italian marble, signature black and white chequered floor and green velvet sofas. The Prada Oasis in Qatar earlier in 2014 created an unexpected desert mirage in the form of a Damien Hirst’s pop-up juice bar accompanied a nearby Prada boutique mimicking traditional Bedouin tent made from sheep hair. Welcome to the desert. Welcome to spend on one of the limited edition Entomology plexiglas bags that encased bejewelled beetles. Women’s Spring/Summer 2015 Prada Catwalk on the 18th September in Milan. Like a sunrise above a purple planet, the lights turn on. 150 tonnes of purple sand, formed into dunes raising from plush carpet. If Prada can’t go to the desert, desert will come to Prada!

Elmgreen and Dragset, Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and so on. Most of the artist/architect — fashion designer collaborations are one offs, but the relationship between Prada and OMA/AMO has gone on for longer. More than a decade. Prada Epicenter (New York, 2001 and Los Angeles, 2004), Prada Transformer (Seoul, 2008), Real Fantasies (video and look-book, 2007 onwards), Prada Foundation (Milan, ongoing), Ideal House (Milan, 2013) to the Purple Desert catwalk (Milan, 2014)…

OMA/AMO seems to be doing things differently. They are constantly exploring new forms of the space, redefining experience of the space and continuously questioning tradition of the runways. In the case of Spring/Summer 2015 AMO investigates natural elements and their interaction with artificial spaces. Like they say: “these encapsulated environments explore new forms of experience of the space and of the show by the audience. Between a lake, a cave or an indoor pool for the men show, and a desert or an indoor playground for the women show, the set up questions the relationship between outdoor and indoor. Blue water and Purple coloured sand invade the space, redefining the existing architecture elements, modifying proportions, turning the show into unexpected landscapes.”

We have developed new values about the landscape: what was outdoor can become indoor. Like gravel invading white interiors in the work of Riverbed by Olafur Eliasson, purple sand covers the central grounds, while sharp white columns are shooting up. There is no relation between the two, which makes contrast distinctive. It’s like a battle between the highway and desert in Dubai, where asphalt road is cutting into the sand and sand covering back edges of the road. The hyper reality is resulting in an anti-minimalism, taking over in wild and unexpected forms. What was flat and infertile ground can become Dubai, a city that Rem Koolhaas, the founding partner of OMA/AMO, often refers to. Artificial artefacts, fashion sets and so on, have mastered the trompe-l’œil technique to deceive the eye. Could the desert become a tool to satisfy what was once a purist eye?

I can’t help myself to stop thinking about the footprints and the marks that were left in the dunes of Prada. I race all the questions through my head. Where does the sand come from? How was the sand transported? Why was the sand coloured? How were the irregular sand volumes made? Who walked over the dunes and who made the marks? Why the desert?

The desert’s metaphors are rooted in its geography, drifting sands shift without ever really changing. It is vast, silent, beautiful, yet arid, dangerous and inhospitable landscape. Desert has been a tool for the soul-searching of generation x, coming to delirious epiphanies while staring at cacti. Jim Morrison and alike traveled to the desert to face their fear and love, a je ne sais quoi purification. Desert has been a profound backdrop in history and fiction. For the lovers in Zabriskie Point by Michelangelo Antonioni, for the creation myth in Fata Morgana by Wener Herzog, for the French Resistance activist Leon in Manon by Henri-George Clouzot and many more. And finally the desert has became a sign of sublime prestige. Luxury resorts and Prada in the deserts spread around the world. Prada Desert holds a bond between tradition and future and juxtaposition between illusion and fashion. It doesn’t matter anymore what are the real marks in the sand. All for mirage and the spectator.

Nomadic girl walks with no hesitation towards the camera, until the only thing left on the screen is her blue eye and in her eye reflection of the planet covered in coloured sand dunes. The sound of piano is slowly dissolving, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me are the last words before the room empties and the applause occupies silence.

What have Miuccia Prada and Rem Koolhaas got in common? Desert!

What have desert and Prada got in common? Future!