Style

How Prada Is Raising Awareness for Ocean Conservation

Prada’s pantheon of famous campaign faces includes Emma Watson, Scarlett Johansson, Amanda Gorman, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Last night, they were joined by an iguana.

“Oh my gosh, I just fell in love with her,” says photographer Enzo Barracco, who shot the stunning creature on a Galapagos Islands beach. Her image—lithe and reclining on black volcanic rock, her head tipped up to the sun, lips pulled into a scaly smile, one foot extended with claws curled in the shape of half moons—now hangs in Prada’s store in downtown New York City, just above a pair of rather perfect sneakers.

The arrival of the iguana marks Prada Group’s latest project with Sea Beyond, an educational partnership with UNESCO devoted to ocean health and planetary responsibility. The lizard is part of a larger photo exhibit by Barracco that celebrates the beauty of the earth and sea (and its creatures), on display in the space until May 27.

a group of people sitting on a stage with a large bird

Courtesy of Prada

Photographer Enzo Barracco, National Marine Educators Association Blue Schools Committee Chair Meghan Marrero, and UNESCO-IOC Senior Program Officer Francesca Santoro in conversation.

To celebrate the art installation, and mark the International Day for Biodiversity, Prada opened its famous Rem Koolhaas-designed boutique for another Possible Conversation, which are basically cool-kid salons for lofty topics like art, resistance, and online love affairs. (This one in particular drew author Amy Sall and graphic design pioneer Michael Rock.) All the better, said Francesca Santoro, who helps lead partnerships at UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

“As a scientist, I think we ignored the fashion world for too long,” she confided. “And you know, that was a mistake. Because I think people who love fashion have the power to change shopping from a vicious circle into a virtuous one. When you demand more from your clothes, brands begin to propose new types of design and new fabrics and dyes, and new ways to recycle old fabric.” Santoro adds that the success of Prada’s Re-Nylon collection, which resurrects coveted ’90s styles like the black 10 Things I Hate About You backpack—and perhaps the best LBD of all time—is being used as a template for other brands on how to rework existing materials into new pieces without losing one’s design footing. “Many of my friends have asked, can I get them a Re-Nylon bag?” Santoro said, laughing.

emma watson prada ad

Courtesy of Prada

Emma Watson, a face of Prada’s Re-Nylon Collection.

For Barracco, who has lensed campaigns for Vivienne Westwood and Estée Lauder, centering nature instead of fashion was a natural next step because “both have the power to change how we experience the world.” After stumbling on a biography of the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, Barracco realized his next assignment wasn’t in Paris or Milan—it was in Antarctica. “I was like, ‘How do I get there? I must go.’ I became obsessed.” When he arrived at the bottom of the world, some glaciers were largely melted. His first book, The Noise of Ice, documented the beauty and anxiety of a habitat in transition.

“Images are designed to move you and help you to connect to a topic that might seem too big for you,” he said. “You know, photography doesn’t need a translation. Data and numbers can feel so big when we talk about the environment. As humans, we can have a problem imagining what they really mean. Images help solve that. So I hope my work can inspire curiosity, or at least inspire surprise…and fashion, certainly, should also inspire curiosity and surprise. The big difference, I guess, is that on a fashion set, humans control everything. Lights, clothing, set, poses, all of it. But you get to [the] Galapagos or Antarctica and you’re like, ‘Oh. Nevermind. I don’t control nature. Nature controls me.’” He admits the iguana took “over an hour” to shoot. Indeed, much like some unnamed supermodels, “You can’t tell her when you’re ready. She’ll tell you!”

Barracco hopes his images “will help awe and educate people” about the ocean’s plight, just as Sea Beyond has done since 2019. Through its work in schools and online, the initiative has connected with over 35,000 students and 14,000 Prada Group employees to boost marine health awareness, and teamed up with scientists like Giovanni Chimienti on protecting Italian black coral. One percent of proceeds from all Prada Re-Nylon products go back to the project, which means if you buy the very shoes underneath the aforementioned iguana photo, approximately $110 will kick back to Sea Beyond’s work.

Santoro, for her part, has seen the work firsthand at the Venetian Lagoon, where primary school students did workshops on water flow. “A parent came up to me a few weeks later,” she recalls. “They said that after her daughter joined our project, she was more responsible at home, and also more responsible with other kids. And I think that’s a very real thing about caring for nature—it makes us better all around.” She hopes that even small steps, like an oceanography exhibit in a luxury store, can help spur bigger conversations and actions about planetary responsibility. “If we want to see a change, we need to engage everyone, including people who love fashion but may not know that much about science,” she says. “They can be, what’s the word, influencers? We need all of that creative energy for the ocean.”

cannes, france may 18 hunter schafer attends the kinds of kindness photocall at the 77th annual cannes film festival at palais des festivals on may 18, 2024 in cannes, france photo by samir husseinwireimage

Samir Hussein//Getty Images

Hunter Schafer in a custom Prada look at Cannes.

So perhaps when actress Hunter Schafer stepped out in Cannes wearing a Prada bathing costume this week, she wasn’t just making a style statement—she was sending a subtle (but super fun) reminder that we’re all riding the same wave, so we better make sure the water stays clean.

To learn more about ocean science and marine ecosystems, visit ioc.unesco.org.

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