The Italian Riviera, Reborn and Reconsidered
A road trip across Liguria.
The Galleria handbag is an icon of the Italian house’s celebrated design and its enduring obsession with fastidious craftsmanship.
THERE IS A cute, compact little handbag with a delightful personality that’s something of a sensation. It’s available in poppy colors of copper and strawberry and bright aquamarine and worn by countless household names. But no matter how buzzy and fresh it feels, Prada’s Galleria bag, like all of the Italian house’s leather goods, has more than a lifetime’s worth of expertise and artisanship at its core. The Galleria, a classic, ladylike 1940s-ish style (that actually debuted in 2007), is a testament to these exacting, some might say obsessive, tendencies. The design appears minimal, but it’s a head trip to create. And as we learn on a tour of the house’s prototype factory, the Galleria is one of the most complex bags that Prada has ever made, requiring an almost couture-like level of specificity — a fact that characterizes our surroundings as particularly apt.
Prada’s prototype factory is part of the house’s vast Valvigna campus. An innovative marvel of greenery and glass designed by Guido Canali, it showcases the seminal architect’s signature philosophy of placing the well-being of workers at its center (via vast, light-filled workspaces) and demonstrating a precise balance of structure and nature, both inside and outside the factory. There’s also a Prada archive onsite, and Patrizio Bertelli, the chairman and former Prada co-CEO who’s also Miuccia Prada’s husband, has an outpost here. Along with overseeing the Prada industrial leather goods district in Tuscany, Bertelli travels to Valvigna to personally approve every single prototype, from the first mock-up to the final archetypical sample.
Named for the enclosed Milan mall that holds Prada’s original flagship boutique, the Galleria handbag has been one of the house’s most popular designs for 16 years, meaning special editions, custom commissions, and new iterations are always in demand and in development. But it’s the complexity rather than the breadth of the design that sets it apart.
Basically, the Galleria is built inside out, with all the details and hardware on the interior completed before the material is reversed and tightly sewn into its sophisticated shape. Each bag has about 100 different components, with compartments and closures throughout. Then, there’s the leather. The signature Galleria is constructed of Saffiano, a treatment that was developed and patented by Mario Prada (Miuccia’s grandfather) in 1913 and is now used the world over in some of the finest luxury products. Essentially, it’s a textured calf leather stamped with Saffiano’s autograph crosshatch pattern, then coated with wax. The glossy, glamorous finish makes it more resistant to damage and staining. It’s also incredibly easy to clean. But before all that, the leather is dyed using an intricate process that requires extra steps because the primer Prada employs is very fluid, meaning it needs more layers of color than the average brand.
Which is to say: Every step of the way, Prada has chosen to do things the hard way, all in an effort to achieve superlative results. It’s craftsmanship not just for the sake of artistry, but also so that the finished product lasts longer, looks better, and feels sturdier and more stylish when hanging from your wrist. After all, as the Prada team reminds us on our tour, details often make all the difference.
Alex Frank is a contributing editor at Departures. Based in Manhattan, Frank previously worked at Vogue.com as deputy culture editor. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, Pitchfork, New York Magazine, Fantastic Man, and the Village Voice.
Skye Parrott is the editor-in-chief of Departures. A magazine editor, photographer, writer, and creative consultant, she was previously a founder of the arts and culture journal Dossier, and editor-in-chief for the relaunch of Playgirl as a modern, feminist publication.
For the last three decades, the New York fashion designer has helped American men get dressed,...
Flamingo Estate is the glamorous 7-acre home and apothecary with golden-era Hollywood history.
Industry insider and local Paolo Casati shares the design community’s favorite places to enjoy —...
Ralph Lauren’s longtime creative officer brings his rugged American aesthetic to his studio and...