‘I love uniforms. They require no thought.’

Interview and styling by Katie Grand
Photographs by Norbert Schoerner

Miuccia Prada & Katie Grand. - © System Magazine
Miuccia Prada & Katie Grand. - © System Magazine
Miuccia Prada & Katie Grand. - © System Magazine
Miuccia Prada & Katie Grand. - © System Magazine
Miuccia Prada & Katie Grand. - © System Magazine
Miuccia Prada & Katie Grand. - © System Magazine
Miuccia Prada & Katie Grand. - © System Magazine
Miuccia Prada & Katie Grand. - © System Magazine
Miuccia Prada & Katie Grand. - © System Magazine
Miuccia Prada & Katie Grand. - © System Magazine
Miuccia Prada & Katie Grand. - © System Magazine
Miuccia Prada & Katie Grand. - © System Magazine
Miuccia Prada & Katie Grand. - © System Magazine

Quite frankly I love Miuccia – always have, always will. And if I could have anything in the world it would be her clothing and jewellery archive. She’s the best-dressed woman on the planet; no one else comes close. There’s already a lot of Prada and Miu Miu in my own archive, of course, which we used for this System shoot. Of all the pieces exhibited in Pradasphere – the 2014 travelling retrospective of definitive Prada looks from Miuccia’s personal collection – I have about 90 percent in my own. On the opening night of Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, an exhibition at the Met in New York in 2012, I was fortunate enough to wear one of Miuccia’s own skirts from the Autumn/Winter 2000 Prada collection, which went on to feature in Pradasphere. For System, we ended up using the shoes from my archive – a model-friendly size 40/41 – as those in the Prada archive are Miuccia’s own, and at size 37 they’re too small. For the same reason, it was my Prada footwear that featured in the shoots for the Impossible Conversations exhibition catalogue. We tend to like the same pieces, and there’s definitely a mutual influence in what we wear. When I go to see her I’ll turn up in Prada, and sometimes Miuccia will ring the store to try on the same piece herself. It works the other way round, too: I’m often inspired to buy something she’s wearing. We’ve both been wearing the Miu Miu Autumn/Winter 2016 pearl shearling slippers all summer (I have six pairs of them). We were wearing them when the following conversation took place at Prada HQ in Milan during preparations for the Spring/Summer 2017 Miu Miu show. Miuccia was wearing hers with trousers (because, as she tells me, ‘This is a period when I like trousers’) and we sat in her office – the famous one with the Carsten Höller escape chute – drinking sparkling water with lemon juice.

Katie Grand: When System asked me to do something with the Prada and Miu Miu archives, which I obviously know well after having already shot with them, I thought it would be good to explore the specific idea of uniforms. It’s crazy how much you refer back to uniforms over and over and over.

Miuccia Prada: Well, this is my fixation!

It was funny, because Edie Campbell said she felt this shoot was about female stereotypes, but that wasn’t how I saw it at all. I just wanted to play with the recurring themes of uniforms in your work: the nun, the maid, the nurse, the school uniform.

In the past, people have asked me if I like working with a theme of uniforms, but I’ve never actually analysed the reason why I like them. There are a few things I want to say about this: I want firstly to say the serious stuff, then the fun stuff. Firstly, you can hide beneath a uniform, so it’s something official that you present, and you don’t have to tell anyone anything about yourself. That’s probably the most ‘serious’ reason why I like them. Secondly, because I personally like and respect work and working, when you have a uniform you’re generally devoted to a working activity, like all school uniforms, or those of nuns or nurses. For me it’s all associated with working, and the declaration of liking what you do at work.

‘I’d wear short skirts, calzettoni and gloves to school; I was probably the most elegant girl there, although one girl wore her mother’s Chanel suits.’

Miuccia Prada

What was your school uniform like?

Black cotton, with a white collar, and open in the back. I’ve never really thought about it before, but that is actually something I use all the time [in the collections].

And what shoes would you wear at school?

Shoes were free to choose; there was never really a strict rule about uniform, even in high school, like I think you have in England. You just had to cover up.

I had a green school uniform. That wasn’t very sexy. Did you wear higher shoes as you got older?

No, because by the time I’d grown up, there were no rules about the height of your shoes. I was only expected to do that in primary school, from the age of four to eight. Actually, maybe I had tiny heels. [Laughs] I wanted to be fashionable, starting from secondary school.

When you didn’t have to wear a uniform, did you dress really sexily?

No, but by the time I got to secondary school – when I was about 13 or 14 – I started really dressing up for school.

Short skirts?

Yes, this was in the 1960s, so short skirts, but I remember I also liked wearing calzettoni [high socks] to school. And even gloves! I was probably the most elegant girl there, although there was one girl who would steal her mother’s Chanel suits to wear to school.

Did you steal your mother’s clothes?

Not really, because my mother was too serious. Actually, I maybe did that later. For mini-skirts, I’d just slip out the door and then shorten the skirt, the typical story. But that’s not about uniforms!

Well, it’s about your uniform.

That was more about fashion. And freedom. In Milan, I was probably the first person to be a hippy, the first one to wear mini-skirts; I really loved fashion for myself. But going back to uniforms, I was also impressed when I first went to China – when there was still Maoism – with everyone dressed the same. I thought the uniform was fantastic.

Were you religious as a kid? Is that where the nun uniform comes from?

I was raised Catholic, but was never really drawn to religion. The nuns… maybe it’s because of Buñuel’s movies…

What do you find sexy about nuns?

Well, I’m not talking specifically about nuns, but when you’re covered up, there’s all this mystery. I also like uniforms because of the idea of liking and respecting your rules. Actually – and this is probably why I like uniforms in general – very often people are so badly dressed, whereas in a uniform, they are always correct. That’s why men always look more elegant, because it’s so much easier to be elegant for a man. I would say they look ‘proper’, whereas for women there are so many choices available that it is much more difficult.

Men in bad, cheap suits aren’t ‘proper’.

No, but it’s generally easier for a man to look put-together. Also, it’s about not wanting to think about fashion.

‘Wedding clothes can be so tacky! Funerals are much more elegant. For me, lace is only beautiful if it’s black, and funereal, and super chic.’

Miuccia Prada

What about your own sense of personal uniform?

I have a kind of personal uniform when I go to work. It’s usually a pleated skirt, a T-shirt, and a sweater. Because for me, you have to want to dress up; it shouldn’t be an obligation. So when you have no time, or you’re thinking about something else, you must have something easy to wear, that makes you feel comfortable. That’s another reason I like uniforms – they require no thought.

When you’re really tired, do you ever just pick up what’s on the floor and throw it on because you don’t want to think about it?

No, but I know that sometimes a white T-shirt, a pleated skirt, and a sweater is just so easy – that’s usually my favourite uniform! But the blue sweater should be the right one, and the pleated skirt should be the right one. One season, it’s the plastic skirt; another season it’s another one. It does depend though, because sometimes I will be more interested in dressing up, or I’ll particularly like something. Sometimes there are things that I love so much that they become my uniform. So a uniform can also mean something that you feel comfortable in without thinking.

Do you have a Christmas uniform?

No. Christmas is a day when I try to dress up.

What, so mean like a fancy dress?

I actually have to say that I start each Christmas with the idea of really dressing up, but I usually end up reducing it a bit. Every season, it’ll just be the newest thing that I like at the moment. Now, I’ve decided for evening wear, I’ll wear trousers. I’ve worn them twice already to the Met Gala.

And for the Vogue dinner, you wore trousers.

Yes, it’s the only thing that feels different. And it’s long. I don’t like long skirts, so I think trousers are a good idea.

Why didn’t you wear trousers for so long?

I like trousers for particular periods of time; this is a period when I like trousers.

I don’t know if funereal is necessarily a uniform, but you make references to funereal clothes much more than you do to wedding clothes…

[Laughs] Wedding clothes can be so tacky! Funerals are much more elegant. Also, when I wanted to do a show about black lace, I thought it was the only way I could possibly like lace. For me, lace is only beautiful if it’s black, and funereal, and super chic. Or white, for a baptism. I never thought about white for marriage, because I don’t like it.

The other uniform worth discussing is maids.

Oh yes, maids. I think that uniforms are also a symbol of life and existence. They punctuate moments in life, whether in the hospital with nurses when you’re born, or the church for a baptism, and school when you’re young. Wedding dresses are also in a sense uniforms. So many jobs have uniforms, so they do punctuate periods in your life. They’re always the most beautiful and elegant clothes, and you appear well dressed. To see someone well dressed is really a pleasure and for sure, all of this fascination was enhanced by movies.

Does it bother you when you see someone you think isn’t well dressed, and they’re wearing Miu Miu or Prada?

No. No. I would say that I never typically look too much at how people are dressed. I actually really don’t care, because I’m much more interested in what they have to say or what they do – and I don’t say that just to sound intellectual. But I will say that I am touched when people appear elegant. I don’t really notice when people are not elegant, but I do when they are, when what they wear works. I also think that to be elegant or chic or trendy isn’t a value for many people, and maybe shouldn’t be a value, but I appreciate it very much. Elegance, and the ability to dress well, is really precious and somehow a mark of intelligence and culture, and huge sensibility and knowledge. I remember people asking me, ‘How can I be elegant?’ And I said, ‘Study. Read books. Watch films’. If you are sensitive, cultivated, and intelligent, you can’t dress so badly. Probably. Or maybe you don’t care. But I don’t believe saying that you don’t care about clothes really exists, because even the decision not to dress is based on a choice, like only wearing black, or only wearing jeans and a T-shirt. So, dressing is really important, because it’s the way you choose to present yourself to other people. But I do refuse to judge other people’s choices. However, very often the people I like are well dressed! Does that sound terrible?

Not at all.

With culture goes knowledge, and a person can be neutral, but, in my opinion, somebody who is really well dressed cannot be stupid.

Is sportswear a uniform?

I’ve never really thought about it, but yes. Although it’s not so much the uniform in sportswear that fascinates me.

Just watching the Olympics though, everyone looks so great.

Yes. And yes, it is a uniform. I watched the Olympics, too.

What was your favourite sport?

Well, more than the Olympics, I’m a fan of football now. I’ve learned to be a football fan, because I’ve always envied how men have so much fun. Every Sunday would be a disaster when I was a little girl, because all the men would only be interested in football. So I’ve learned about football and I’ve succeeded in becoming a fan.

Do you like football because it’s such a masculine sport, and there aren’t many women around, and you’re kind of taken care of?

[Laughs] No, actually, if you really become a fan, you have so much fun watching football. I certainly do now.

Who do you go to the football with?

I don’t go to matches. I watch it at home with a lot of people… Mainly men.[Laughs]. We play cards, discuss politics, and watch football.

Just going back to the subject of uniform. It’s always a shame when you see people out of their uniforms. Often, you see people participating in sports and get so excited about them, then see them afterwards, and they seem dressed so strangely.

And, as you say, it is more ‘strange’ than ‘bad’. It’s because the uniform enhances them somehow. Because you think there is a whole world under that uniform that you don’t know about. All the girls in love with uniforms, and the power of uniforms – not so much now, but certainly after the war – that was because the uniform was always considered mysterious and fascinating, and could hide secrets and a forbidden life, which made it sexy. Under the neutrality, you can imagine anything.

So many uniforms are black, and black is always sexy.

Doctors are considered very sexy.

And firemen.

Firemen are sexy.

The police?


Taken from System No. 8.