Miuccia Prada doesn’t sound as though she were all that concerned when she heard that her $40 million “epicenter” store, the one that was designed by tetchy avant-gardist Rem Koolhaas and opened in Soho shortly after 9/11, had been ruined by water and smoke damage after a fire. “You know, life is so complicated in general that unless something really terrible happens, I just say, ‘Who cares?’ ” Though, to be honest, she also thought, “Let’s just hope the insurance pays for it and we reopen very quickly.” It took a few months, but the shop, rearranged slightly but otherwise still looking like the world’s most lavish indoor skateboarding ramp, is back. Prada’s here from Milan this week, to reinaugurate it with a mechanized exhibition of her skirts, called “Waist Down,” also designed by Koolhaas’s studio.
Do you come to the city often?
Not in a year. I should, but I have to work, I have a family, I have so many things to do.
Why do you say “should”?
It’s one of the big cities where things happen. Italy is so closed to so many new ideas. New York is still one that’s doing it—at least I hope. What do you think? Do you think it’s too much about money? Shops are where art used to be. It’s the same problem everywhere.
Isn’t the epicenter store supposed to be a sort of art space?
It’s a place for experimentation. But it’s not by chance that the exhibition is in the store. Because it started with the idea of putting more things to discuss, mainly about my work, in the store. It’s like an explanation of the work. It’s not at all anything connected with art. It’s just to make the store more interesting.
Your foundation has sponsored a great deal of art, though, from Vanessa Beecroft to video artist Francesco Vezzoli. Last year some artists even constructed a small Prada store in the middle of the desert in Marfa, Texas.
We had nothing to do with that, except that they asked if they could use our name. And we said yes.
Did you like the Marfa store?
Yes! Actually we just did an exhibition with Tom Sachs [an artist who puts luxury-brand names on things like guillotines, toilets, and guns] because he’s another one who approaches the big market and the problem of commerciality.
What do you mean by problem?
Very often I feel very culpable for being a brand. I am very sensitive to the subject. I want to understand myself if I am so bad! [Laughs] I have been reading a lot of [Sachs’s] interviews. In one he talked about how at some point something that was against a brand became a brand—for himself. So everybody wanted this kind of art because it was a brand. And so he decided to not do it anymore. And then he confessed that “sometimes I prostituted myself and did some.” I am aware of all these people who don’t like brands.
What is it about your brand that attracts people?
[Sighs] Yes, it’s difficult to answer. You have some customers who are customers because they understand when you do something clever. For others, the brand is just a brand. It’s just the name—who cares what you do. The two exist together. And when you do things now, you have to do things that people like instantly, so it connects. So you can have a more sophisticated customer and some other who gets the superficial impression. Personally, I’m much more interested in doing things that people all over the world are interested in, instead of only a few sophisticated things for a small group.
What else is the foundation doing?
We are trying to do a new idea of filming, which will be ready in one year.
You’ll be making movies?
I can’t tell you the idea. [Laughs] But we are definitely moving in that direction in art. I am very much interested in art that is accessible to people and is not secluded in a small space, that is more popular in a way. Movies are definitely one. And the Internet is one. But it’s not easy to do something new.
This exhibition was in Tokyo and China before this. How was it received?
Very, very well, mainly in Shanghai. We did the exhibition in an old European hotel on the Bund. It’s completely dilapidated. There is a Communist room, the Russian room, the American room. The exhibition there lasted for just three or four days—they are used to going to an exhibition for just two or three days because so often they get shut down because of the controls. Also, they get bored, I think, so quickly . . . At the foundation, we’re talking to the Chinese government about a program we have to restore movies; I think they did it because we’re Prada. So I joke with my friend: Maybe we can do more politically with bags than with art. It’s a joke, but there is kind of an interesting point in this globalization argument.