Hadid & Chanel Take Two, Enter Koolhaas & Prada

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Last summer the Zaha Hadid-designed spaceship Chanel landed in New York’s Central Park & the NY Times’ Nicolai Ouroussoff called out the luxury brand for its stupidity:

Frederick Law Olmsted planned the park as a great democratic experiment, an immense social mixing place as well as an instrument of psychological healing for the weary. The Chanel project reminds us how far we have traveled from those ideals by dismantling the boundary between the civic realm and corporate interests.

Well, I’ve already railed about Hadid’s luxurious white elephant but it seems another luxury fashion brand (Prada) is jumping into bed with a starchitect (Rem Koolhaas) and hoping to make a success of the collaboration. So I was curious to read (and comment) on the following Francesco Vezzoli’s interview with Koolhaas & Miuccia Prada in Interview Magazine. The project is called Prada Transformer.

First the intro and this callous passage:

The meeting took place a little more than a week before a fire in Beijing threatened another of Koolhaas’s highly regarded projects in Asia—the mesmerizing titanium zinc alloy-clad CCTV headquarters. Thankfully, the structure survived.

No mention that a fireman died in the blaze and seven people, six firemen and a construction worker, were injured….oh, but thank fuckin’ god that the building survived….hallelujah!

The interview itself reads like a circle jerk between people who probably wished they could just sit around kissing each other and forgo the PR:

VEZZOLI: Having known Miuccia for a long time, I always felt that eventually there would be some project that would draw all of the different aspects of her work into one. For me, this project becomes more like that place of her mind, and your mind . . . As if you both were finally able to put together all of these previously unmergeable elements.

KOOLHAAS: Yes, the project is about merging the unmergeable.

Mind you the project is a venue for art, architecture, film & fashion, so how these are “unmergeable” is unclear. There are other bizarre statements that aren’t supported by any facts whatsoever:

VEZZOLI: I think the whole core of the project is that it is addressing the relationship between art and the means that support art.

PRADA: Exactly. It probably is the right moment, because we’ve been doing this for a long time.

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Why is it the right moment if they are doing it for a long time? How is this pavilion addressing the means to support art? So obtuse.

Then there is the irrelevance of the location:

KOOLHAAS: So is there also an Asian connection?

PRADA: I don’t know yet which movies he selected . . . Maybe there is a connection, maybe not. I think he likes the idea of doing it in a place like that—a place that’s not just a simple movie theater, but a space conceived precisely for that kind of projection and discussion.

VEZZOLI: It’s not important if it’s in Seoul, basically . . . It seems to me more of a metaphorical place than a geographical one.

PRADA: Well, the fact that we ended up in Seoul actually is . . .

KOOLHAAS: . . . Part of the whole story. Seoul is a very vivid, authentic city, where there is even a form of resistance to the developing global condition, and that makes it especially exciting.

And then my favorite part where Prada comes across as slow-witted and a controlling:

VEZZOLI: So, this issue of Interview is, in some ways, about the future. I was thinking of what the future means. I found this sentence by Eleanor Roosevelt: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” [Prada and Koolhaas laugh]

KOOLHAAS: It’s kind of sarcastic . . . Maybe not the beauty, but more the effectiveness . . .

PRADA: Another sentence, please.

VEZZOLI: Coco Chanel: “A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.”

PRADA: This is tough . . .

…[jump cut a few back & forths]…

PRADA:….But let’s stop this quotes game . . . I wanted to ask you, Francesco, what do you think about this combination of different fields?

And this is a doozy. Vezzoli’s response to Prada’s questions above tells you a great deal about Vezzoli and how narcissistic and removed from reality he is:

VEZZOLI: As an artist, I am really enthusiastic about it. In my first three art videos, I had three divas—one from television, one from cinema, and one from the theater. I asked three famous movie directors to direct them. For each video, I collaborated with a different fashion designer . . . I mean, I am not afraid of contamination . . .

KOOLHAAS: Art contamination.

VEZZOLI: That’s what my work is about: contamination, and not being afraid.

Contamination? Huh? Maybe this interview was translated from another language? How do three divas from three obviously related fields working together with directors and designers even qualify as contamination when this is the sort of thing that has been commonplace in art since the advent of Modernism. And isn’t the word contamination merely hyperbole in this scenario?

Now a bigger question, why is their first big interview for this project being conducted by an artist who has been supported by Prada’s Milan foundation? Why aren’t the questions being asked by a celebrity (it is Interview after all) without a stake in the Prada Foundation or an arts journalist who could ask them obvious questions, like:

  • Is it prudent to spend million$ of dollars in the middle of one of the biggest recessions in history when you could be funding ailing cultural institutions?
  • Has Koolhaas finally had a change of heart about working in autocratic China and does he prefer to work in more democratic states?
  • What are Koolhaas’ thoughts about the fact that people will be put to death for the fire that almost destroyed his Mandarin Oriental hotel?

I suspect Koolhaas & Prada wanted to control the interview as much as possible and chose an ally who would pull all his punches, I mean, you never know when Vizzoli may need more funding from the Prada foundation.

I think this mode of over the type architecture/luxury brand collaboration (or is it CONTAMINATION!) is rather inappropriate in this day and age, that’s not to say we shouldn’t continue to experiment as a global culture but this type of project is meaningless and more interested in careful stylization rather than innovation. Then again, this is the same team that opened their $40 million dollar Prada Soho store right after 9/11 when the city was reeling from the economic slowdown.

All photos courtesy: Prada Transformer website

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