OMA AMO frames Prada’s ‘Possible Feelings’

In conversation with Giulio Margheri

For the debut menswear chapter of Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons’ collaboration for Prada, the duo presented their Autumn Winter 2021-22 collection entitled ‘Possible Feelings’ inside a colourful, alternate world. Created with the need to feel and the pleasure of tactility at its core, one of the most memorable parts of the digital presentation was the set design conceived and built by AMO, the think tank of OMA, the Dutch architectural firm founded by Rem Koolhaas.

In the past, AMO have been responsible for the creation of Prada’s most memorable sets, from the lightbulb-covered floors of their Autumn Winter 2019-20 menswear show to the infinite marble covered palace of Spring Summer 2015 and the two-storey steel ‘house’ of Autumn Winter 2011-12. Their partnership stretches as far back as Autumn Winter 2004-05, where the collaboration began with the simple draping of AMO-designed wallpapers throughout the space.

Framing the Autumn Winter 2021-22 men’s show, each look from the collection is contextualised within multiple colourful textured backdrops that took the audience on a journey through four aesthetically pleasing rooms that each played a part in the wider conversation regarding the passage of time and the perception of space.

Installed at the routine show location at the Fondazione Prada in Milan, the set was the fruit of a creative dialogue between architects and designers. When discussing the project, Giulio Margheri, AMO’s Lead Architect on the Prada collaboration, describes the process as, “A constant exchange during which we work on the creation of a space, which is the setting for some characters to move in; and they work on the creation of those characters. Of course each one affects the other, and there’s certainly always a connection between the two.”

One of the primary conceits for this collection was the theme of tactility, an idea that also played a major role in AMO’s set design process. Each room of their installations featured its own combination of colours and textures that included variations on faux fur, poured resin and painted marble, all of which are set to be up-cycled by Meta – a Milanese organisation working in collaboration with La Reserve de Arts who will facilitate the distribution of the materials to students and professionals within the fashion industry. When combined with the geometry of the different shaped rooms, they created universes that were entirely separate yet still connected in some ways. “We did not want just a layer of colour on the walls. We wanted to add texture, so the space became more complex, three-dimensional, yet abstract and immaterial.” said Margheri. “Texture was an additional part of the atmosphere that wouldn’t necessarily have any architectural connotations, as geometry and spaces were very pure, and the materials themselves had no decorations nor ornaments.”

The importance of reflecting this complexity within the space lays at the heart of the initial discussions, where the team began exploring the idea of creating rooms that were an interpretation of the passage of time through the elements of design and architecture. “At the beginning we were trying to achieve different sequences of atmospheres that would feel like different times and moments. We began looking for materials that reflected various perceptions of day and night. Later during the process the idea of representing time became less literal, and the different sets rearranged in a sequence of an ‘atmosphere’, which led us to a conversation about a dual relationship with the materials. It was quite a fluid process.”

With the various disparities and similarities of these multiple atmospheres, the audience was able to witness the evolution of each Prada silhouette as it traveled from one space to the next, allowing multiple perspectives of each model and his clothing — almost in a way that nodded to daywear and evening wear, but with the scenery of vibrant coloured faux fur walls as opposed to the changing light of the moon and the sun.

Keep scrolling to read OMA’s Giulio Margheri in conversation with Jordan Anderson on a Zoom call from Milan to Rotterdam.

Bird’s eye views of the Prada Autumn Winter 2021-22 men’s showspace designed by AMO, Milan.

What was the process like in creating this set with Prada? 
When developing the design for the set, the parameters are often very similar, yet it is never a linear process. During the kick-off meetings, we bring in different ideas and concepts in the form of references, collages or spatial diagrams. From there, it’s a fluid and constant conversation between AMO and Prada: sometimes the idea that we started with fades out, and another one comes in and becomes central to the project.  In the case of this show it was actually quite a consistent evolution.

How would you differentiate this set from any of the work OMA has created for Prada in the past?
All of them are different to some extent, which is one of the most interesting parts of being on such a project. However, for us what is very specific to this show is that it was conceived solely for broadcasting purposes, as opposed to the majority of the previous shows, that always are live streamed while contemplating the presence of an audience. This liberated our work from the constraints and complications of seating, security, and other similar requirements, allowing us to concentrate on the pure essence of the set design. It became a very cinematographic approach, as there was no longer a necessity to complete the whole space, but rather to only focus on the area within the camera’s reach.

The choice of using vivid colours and textures tied in perfectly with the story being told by the duo about this collection. How difficult was it to source the materials that did this so accurately?
The sourcing of materials itself wasn’t too difficult as our work on many previous shows means we have a large range of materials at reach. Additionally Prada’s team in Milan, who supports us, also has a very good and proactive network.

Can you talk us through the different types of materials that were used in each room?
There were combinations of soft and hard materials, such as fur and marble, cladded in varying compositions on the walls and floors. The first room featured long and dense red fur on the walls and black poured resin on the floors; the second room had a marble finishing painted in white on the walls combined with a light blue carpet; the third room featured purple fur on the walls along with printed green marble on the floors; and the fourth room used the texture of a pink plaster on the walls combined with a white long carpet.

The textures in the set invoke an emotional response: they are cozy, cocooning, intimate. Was this important for you to achieve?
Yes. Our goal was to create uncanny situations and environments that would feel both homely and unknown all at once, thanks to their colors, textures and scales.

What did you want to achieve by creating different shaped rooms, and the empty door frames between each? 
We wanted to emphasize the progression of spaces and the differences among them. Geometry played an important role in establishing a sense of passage from one environment to the other. In my opinion, the film portrays this accurately, as all rooms share a similar scale, but their different geometries change their perception. That becomes even more powerful when combined with the changes in colors and materials.

Was an element of ‘infinity’ and ‘warped perspective’ important when creating the set? It seems to go on and on in circles like a labyrinth – much more complex than last season’s single yellow room. 
Yes, definitely, we wanted to achieve a loop sensation, some sort of endless relationship among the spaces. We tested it in different ways, and the main goal was to ensure that the passage or the sequence wouldn’t just work as an enfilade, but rather that it would become a journey, so that you would only see the frames of the incoming or outgoing rooms but never all of them as a sequence.

How did you light the spaces? 
A major part of the initial discussion was whether we should have very different lighting in each room, to enhance the different atmospheres. In the end we chose a consistent overhead lighting in all the rooms that was in fact quite similar to the lighting we used in many previous shows.

Was this set a response to last season’s women’s scenography? 
No, I wouldn’t say it was a response, but both of them are somehow a reflection of the current condition. Last season there was a powerful relationship between the environment and technology, the latter played an active role in the show. This season, technology took the role of a witness, rather than an actor.

Experience the Prada show space in 3D here

Words by Jordan Anderson
Photography by Agostino Osio for OMA AMO

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