The story of the monolithic entity that is Prada is usually told through the media-facing creative director and CEO, Miuccia Prada. Recently, in New York Magazine’s “The Cut,” contributor Gaby Wood travelled to Milan to report from behind the scenes during the spring 2015 menswear show from a perspective less told––that of Prada’s other CEO and Ms. Prada’s husband, Patrizio Bertelli. Bertelli is something like the Wizard to the Prada company’s Oz, a face rarely seen but who’s presence impacts every aspect of the company’s very elaborate functionality. Bertelli and Prada met the year Miuccia took over the family leather goods business, 1977. She quickly contracted him to manufacture her leather bags and the pair have existed in an unyielding and immensely productive creative/professional relationship ever since. All design credit goes to Miuccia, who was the creative revolutionary of fashion in the 90s. But if Miuccia holds rank as Prada’s creative life force, it is Bertelli who was the impetus for the product expansion b!eyond leather goods in the first place.
The Prada brand is defined by an insistence on meticulous quality control that borders on insanity. The Prada standard of unparalleled luxury is steadfastly maintained throughout every aspect of the company’s operations, on macro and micro scales. This includes the finest details regarding heel height down to the millimeter to the creation of a mock shop window, made to scale, before it debuts in the store. Bertelli took Wood throughout northern Italy where all aspects of Prada’s operations are sprawled out, from the head office at Bergamo 21 in Milan to the shoemaking site in Buresta to a San Zeno facility where the mock stores are created. While the production operations have the efficiency of a Henry Ford assembly line, Bertelli considers the production sites to be more like laboratories where Prada’s artisanal craftsmanship is innovated and perfected. Their production process is hyper modern where necessary but more traditional manual labor is not pushed aside––leather pattern pieces for a pair of shoes is laser cut, crocodile skin is hand cut. The site at San Zeno is not just a Hollywood-esque warehouse where shop fronts are created and sent off to boutiques at the four corners of the globe. If the shoemaking facility is where the Prada brand perfects itself in terms of tangible craftsmanship, San Zeno is where Prada revolutionizes the shopping experience through the fusion of the r!etail, gallery and performance space.
If Prada dominates the luxury fashion market, it is not because of some happy accident but because of the rigorous collaborative efforts of Ms. Prada and Mr. Bertelli. The Prada ethos is not simply a philosophical one, but a fundamental discipline which informs every endeavor the company engages in.
Patrizio Bertelli, in one of his favorite rooms at Prada’s headquarters at Bergamo 21 in Milan, less than an hour before the spring/summer 2015 menswear show.
(L) At the far end of the assembly room in Buresta, red and black patent-leather pumps and boots await their final inspection. (R) Shoe prototypes displayed for review at Buresta, where 20,000 prototypes are designed every year; only 60 percent go into production.
The quality-control facility in Arezzo.
A point-toe pattern is traced by hand—with a Prada-branded pencil—on thin white paper. The paper pattern is known as a camicia (shirt).
(L) Two workers cutting gray print fabric, from the women’s fall/winter 2014 collection. (R) A worker responsible for the selection and cutting of fine leathers.
An assortment of leather in the leather-goods factory in Buresta.
(L) A cobbler in the Buresta facility. (R) An orchid suede point-toe pump is measured at an old-fashioned cobbler’s bench before being positioned on a conveyor belt in anticipation of the next stage of production.
At the quality-control facility, a garment is remeasured to ensure it matches the precise dimensions of the design.
A model for a shop window at Harrods—the bags are roughly 1 1/2 inches wide. All photos by Andrea Frazzetta.