Fans of the Milanese label Prada tend to have two things in common: an appreciation for intellectualism in design, and a desire to wear it in an artful but still pretty way. The brand’s creative head, Miuccia Prada, is known for her ability to divine the future of fashion, and for launching seismic-force trends that ripple through the industry with impressive—and lasting—effects. “Prada is totally monumental,” the tastemaker Kal Ruttenstein of Bloomingdale’s said in 2004. “She leads everyone.”

Miuccia appears to have had a magic touch from the very start. Yet she never set out to be one of the world’s leading arbiters of style. Having earned a doctorate in political science, she had blithely set on a career as a mime when duty called in the form of the family store. No ordinary mom-and-pop venture, this. It was established in 1913 by her grandfather Mario, and Fratelli Prada—as it was known—was in its heyday a premier purveyor of luxury leather goods and accessories. The Italian royal household even granted the use of its coat of arms on Prada’s fine-luggage sets, made from walrus and alligator. European aristocracy came calling, including Princess Grace of Monaco.

One never knows what new innovation or must-have item she’ll put out next—fairies, lace, creepers, and cheeky monkey-and-banana prints were all the rage at one point—but one thing is clear: All eyes remain fixed on fashion’s premier trend trailblazer. “Why is Prada so fashionable?” she once mused. “I don’t know. Ask someone else. All I do is design it.”

Prada, Avenida da Liberdade, Lisbon, Portugal

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