Housed within Shanghai’s Start Museum, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons’s Pradasphere II explores the iconic Milanese brand’s past and projects its future

Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons are prolific challengers of fashion’s status quo. The powerhouse duo plays with both exaggerated and muted proportions in equal measure, through them questioning standards of beauty. So it’s no wonder that the two creatives, neither of whom identify as artists in the traditional sense, would find themselves aligned in the Pradasphere, a location blending both the brand’s institution and memory in an accessible space. Considering the world of Prada as a whole reminds us not just of the surname-turned-label, but of Mrs. Prada’s namesake as a large-scale cultural project, one that is unparalleled in its defiance of a more orthodox, commercial understanding of the industry.

Pradasphere II, open from December 7 through January 21, 2024 at Shanghai’s Start Museum, dives deep into its own lore with the seemingly impossible task of curating a selection from Prada and Simons’s fundamentally non-linear design histories. The exhibition takes the baton from Pradasphere I, which opened in 2014. Combining fashion archives with a history of art commissions, the exhibition’s otherworldly soundtrack by Plastikman a.k.a. renowned techno DJ Richie Hawtin represents this kind of a mix; the score’s no doubt based on both Mrs. Prada and Simons’s connection to music.

The exhibition space begins with an antechamber of virtual models against the backdrop of Shanghai. Mannequins flank winding hallways, some situated at eye level, others sitting on the rafters above, looking down at viewers playfully. Much of the emotion that surrounds Prada as a brand focuses on the act of observance—the pair constantly toe the line between public and private, using the garments to propose a quiet view on culture.

In this hall, it’s easy to appreciate the tremendous sense of evolving modernity, as well. Within several designs pulled from the early ’90s, it’s fair to say that Prada predicted our current style moment far before we could live it. Pradasphere II also includes a selection of menswear that bears the influence of Simons since his joining the Italian house in 2020, emblematic of the brand’s expanding interpretation of nylon and workwear (itself embedded in the heritage of Mrs. Prada’s own experimentations, that began with Miu Miu’s menswear line). The experience culminates—after scenic recreations of the Prada headquarters, among other iconic spaces—in a reproduced Marchesi, the centuries-old Milanese pasticceria that the brand joined forces with years ago to preserve an element of tradition in its quickly changing Italian birthplace.

Michael Rock, of the design firm 2×4, spoke about their team’s creative consulting on the project, noting that they wanted to “focus on the direct relationship between the object and the person,” for Pradasphere II, opting to create to-scale facsimiles of Prada’s facilities in Italy, including their headquarters. Recreation and replication form a constant tension in the brand’s practice, so this choice is natural.

A room dedicated to Mrs. Prada’s collaboration with photographer Albert Watson—which began in the late ’80s—is most resonant to the label’s legacy, featuring a series of rarely seen images. Within this collaboration, audiences can understand how Prada came to transcend fashion, and extend into broader culture, forming a global footprint without sacrificing design quality.

While Mrs. Prada and Simons are quick to reject the notion of fashion as art, Pradasphere II leaves audiences wondering if this exhibition is, in fact, the pair’s most subversive play of all. Isn’t the hesitation to self-identify as an artist exactly what an artist would say? Both designers have complex roles within the canon of fashion; perhaps their view of culture is more panoptic than what we understand fashion to be.