AI : More Than Human, Is Singularity a near future or a mere myth ?

Upon my soul we might have known that some day or other the Robots would be stronger than human beings, and that this was bound to happen, and we were doing all we could to bring it about as soon as possible.

(Busman, R.U.R, III-47)

In literature and cinema, artificial intelligence and singularity intertwined more often than they don’t wether it is according a benevolent or disaster narrative. When in London I finally got the opportunity to see the highly anticipated exhibit (at least by me) AI : More Than Human at the Barbican Center. Described as a “ ‘festival-style’ exhibition [hey you have to attract the masses!] […] Bringing together artists, scientists and researchers, this interactive exhibition offers an unprecedented survey of AI with which you are invited to engage head-on”. 

I was already intrigued by the name itself AI : More Than Human. Why this more between AI and human ?  Was AI superior to human ? Were men to become more than humans in a near future ?  Questions which for now remained unanswered. As I didn’t want to spoil myself by tracking the hashtags of the show on social media nor read reviews, I only stuck to those lines before going. Plus it was an opportunity to appreciate the Barbican once again. The center itself is an experience : The gloomy buildings cut in concrete are the ideal symbol of Brutalism. Getting lost in this forest of infinite towers and bars, be seduced by the unlikely post-apocalyptic courtyard and its turquoise water-flows are part of the show. As I got swallowed by these masses of stones, the sun disappeared and I was soon welcomed by the infamous fresh air and the darkness of the Barbican vast corridors on that early summer afternoon. The immersion could start. This is actually the perfect word to describe the show. 

Indeed, immersion in arts has become a recurrent theme. Visitors want to be included and take part in wether it is by having their picture taken in front of an art piece – and no longer take a picture of the piece itself – , Instagram-Material pieces or immersive experiences. 

Thus the Barbican created a whole experience based on immersion and engagement almost in a gaming/education-style. Lots of definitions, timelines, and fun facts. And tons of interactive platforms and stations waiting for nothing else but visitors to play with ! So what did we see there ? 

The blow of the exhibit was probably ALTER3, a Japanese robot developed by Hiroshi ISHIGURO and Kohei OGAWA. ALTER3’s hands moving frenetically spark some curiosity. The disturbing apparence of the robots : a bare machine body with a human-looking face wasn’t the only thing to be amazed by. Using deep learning, the robot learns through the interactions with its surrounding and experience.

We also met Mitsuku – which despite its name is not Japanese – the best performing chatbot developed to date created by Steve WORSWICK. There was a great focus on progress made by facial recognition but also impact on speech and language can AI have on society. Washington University played with several speeches of OBAMA, synthesised them to create a whole new ones with opposite meaning.  

The effects of automation in language and the thought process were also explored and neutral thinking hinted. NY Times has been testing and training a system to moderate the comments section of its websites for example. Ultimately, the system will be able to not rely on human assistance to sort out comments and accept or ban some.

Singularity is a largely discussed and polarising topic when we evoke AI. Singularity is the narrative according which a day will come where artificial intelligence will awake after years of perfectionism and develop its own mind marking the end of humanity and the beginning of a post-human era

The term was coined in 1958 by mathematician Jon VON NEUMANN recollects his friend scientist Stan ULAM. By that time Von Neumann was referring to normal progress not involving superhuman intelligence however. 

The imminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence, the awakening of artificial intelligence machines and computers with an intelligence way superior to humans were then developed the following decades as computer development progressed. 

1993 is a landmark as mathematician Vernor VINGE (San Diego University) came up with The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era in which he states “Around year 2023, we will create a superhuman intelligence that will sets off the end of the human era”. Point. Blank. Period. 

According to Vinge singularity is only a matter of time since it mostly depends on progress made in hardware performance already exponentially improving. Computers and large computer networks will then awake to become those “superhumanly intelligent” entities. Another forecast is the widespread of computer/human interfaces enhancing humans natural intellect abilities. If Vinge got the date of the accomplishment of his prophecy wrong, some outlook and forecasts  on AI are accurate and time has not proved him wrong yet. 

For example he predicted a wave technological unemployment with more and more machines replacing higher level jobs. 

Intelligence Explosion

“An ultra intelligent machine will be built and that will be the last invention than man need make”

Vinge comes to the conclusion that greater-than-human intelligence will drive progress, that progress will exponentially  accelerate and produce still-more intelligent entities on a still-shorter time scale. 

Man is able to create simulations of the world in the mind to anticipate and solve issues ahead of the natural selection process, differing from animals. By analogy artificial intelligence is able to create simulations way faster than humans can do. Singularity as seen by Vinge is the “point where our old models must be discarded and a new reality rules”. 

Far more ahead of his time was British mathematician I.J. GOOD, the man behind the concept of “Intelligence Explosion”. In 1966 he prophesied that a day will come “Within the 20th century, an ultra intelligent machine will be built and that will be the last invention than man need make” According to the mathematician, we may one day design a machine that surpasses human skills at designing AIs. After that, this machine will improve its own intelligence faster and better than humans could, which would make it even more skilled at improving its own intelligence.

“Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultra intelligent machine could design even better machines” he said. Intelligent explosion is the pragmatic take on singularity. 

Fictional reality 

Machines not needing man anymore and awakening has been a recurring pattern throughout the 19th century until today in literature and cinema starting with Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). Since then, we’ve seen lots of computers plotting behind our backs while we were asleep, man-made creations gone mad against their equally mad scientist creator, and still more human-looking humanoids trying to kill our favourite hero to replace them. 

The prospects of AI reaching singularity have long be explored since the early 19th century matching the spread of the Industrial Revolution culture (industrialisation of mankind ?) 

One work we cannot not mention is Czech play R.U.R by Karel ČAPEK first published in 1920. R.U.R – Rossum’s Universal Robots – is important as it marks the first occurence of the word robot to refer to humanoids and androids. Robot derives from Robota which means “forced labour” when Robota derives from rab which means slave. Karel Čapek credits his brother Josef for the finding.

R.U.R is a very fascinating play to read considering how ahead of its time it was. 

Domin, runs a factory producing human-looking robots exclusively designed for chores and labour he inherited from Old Rossum who first discovered a special cell to design robots. Years goes on and R.U.R becomes world-wide successful company which has subverted nations. And a robot-based economy has arisen. Nations are ordering more and more robots especially to strengthen their defence and have more soldiers. Also a decline in natality is seen across the world as we need less human workers so people. This is when robots awaken and threat humanity. The play ends on a quirky plot twist I’ll let you discover. 

Despite being mentioned on rare occasions, R.U.R can be seen as a cornerstone for many science fiction and literature works and movies such as Fritz LANG’s Metropolis (1927) which also explores similar paths : future, man versus machine, master versus worker. R.U.R is also about social engineering. The subtext of the play is the dehumanisation of men into literal robots during the Industrial era. See this quote of DOMIN (I – 29) talking about robots : 

DOMIN : What sort of worker do you think is the best from a practical point of view? 

HELENA : Perhaps the one who is most honest and hardworking. 

DOMIN : No; the one that is the cheapest.

Here robots can easily be replaced by workers. Similar to this quote from Metropolis when a worker talks to Metropolis’s tycoon heir Freder.

“The machine ! Someone has to stay at the machine !”

Those early 20th century works are strong critics of Fordism. Fordism which is ruled by principles the most known being the assembly line, the standardisation and uniformisation of products (over craftsmanship) and the scandalous rise of wages to allow people buying the products they may have contributed producing. Thus, the awakening of machines can be seen as a metaphor of workers revolutions emancipating themselves from slavery they’ve been put into and finding back their mind. Those sci-fi and dystopian productions tell more about the human nature (or the loss of it) than the actual alleged desire for domination of machines on mankind. 

“ Humans have long dreamed of superhumanity and AI appears as the ultimate servant… as long as it serves humans purpose. ”

Back in our times, the same disruption caused by the Industrial Revolution and the Fordism could happen again with AI. It will. It is, actually. In Homo Deus (2015), Yuval HARARI talks about the “Gods and the Useless” just like unskilled workers living underground and the elite living above in Lang’s Metropolis. In this present-future, we’ll need more managers than actual workers creating a thicker gap between the ultra qualified managers and engineers and unskilled workers, between the winners and losers of this AI-based economy. French surgeon Laurent ALEXANDRE reports that “AI transforms social organisation and favours intellectual elites versus the people […] devalues handcraft and the middle-class”.

Humans have long dreamed of superhumanity and AI appears as the ultimate servant… as long as it serves humans purpose. 

Singularity, Intelligence Explosion, are we even close ?

“It’s still one of the greatest mysteries how this three-pound piece of matter can give us all our subjective experiences, thoughts, and emotions”

Dr. Heather Berlin

Depends on how you define intelligence. Human beings have the ability to solve problems in a given environment wether they have already experienced it or not. It is part of the general intelligence along with emotions, thoughts, creativity. This is actuality not the case for machines. Machines they surpass humans abilities in numerous fields they’ve previously been trained for. A machine cannot solve a problem if it has not been trained for before. This is the first – and crucial – difference between humans and machines. Also, machines are unable to understand the principle of emotions and develop some sort of thought. It is an unintelligible principle to the machine for now.

A chatbot like Mitsuku can chat with a user and reply according to the tone of the conversation but it doesn’t mean it does understand the meaning of it. A chatbot will use answer A and not B because it has previously learned it was the appropriate option to question A. As a matter of fact Worswick is currently adding abilities to Mitsuku so it can fight back abusive content it receive (accounting for 30% of the content received.) Worswick wrote a column on Medium discussing wether chatbots should develop those skills or shall he or others chatbots makers simply rule out offensive content which may be downgrading the performance of their creation. 

In that way, machine cannot surpass the human intelligence despite already surpassing us when it comes to the speed of calculation, data search and organisation, probability and algorithm generation. Those abilities solely depend on the hardware performance. Vinge predicted we will one day design hardwares close to perfect in term of speed but that will be the end of it. Luke MUEHLAUSER (2013) comes to the same conclusions. He suggests we will perfect AI but not to the point of developing something close to the human mind. DREYFUS (1972) and PENROSE (1994) argue that human cognitive abilities will never be in the abilities of a machine.

“Commercial digital signal processing might be awesome, giving an analog appearance even to digital operations, but nothing would ever “wake up” and there would never be the intellectual runaway which is the essence of the Singularity.”

Gustav STENT , The Coming of the Golden Age (1969) 

Futurist Ray KURZWEIL (2005) predicts that machines will reach our level of intelligence by 2030 creating “a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability” by 2045 supporting Good’s intelligence explosion instead.

Finally and I’ll leave it there, 4D explorers strongly believe we on a daily and individual basis are strengthening AI which only desires one thing : collect enough knowledge and data to reach the Singularity. For now this AI would only be a vast virtual nebula that when awake would materialize by connecting all devices and smart networks together in order to rule us. Artificial Intelligence replicates nature’s pattern where 1+1=1 and all information collected by one device is fully saved and processed by other device creating one single “mind” . In this scenario the ascent of 5G would fasten this as data flows and information still more rapidly and extend AI exponentially. A theory to place on the side of fantasies as it is not backed by evidences.

 From AI to IA 

Transhumanism appears as the latest agenda pushed when it comes to AI. Indeed if for now AI developing its singular mind seems farfetched (let’s be honest), it could be the tool to enhance human natural intellect and. By taking the best of both we will finally develop superhumans as many dream of, moving towards transhumanism. 

Vinge talked about IA (Intelligence Amplification) which is what most scientists and mathematicians tend to align nowadays. Machines could be used as assistant to the human to perform well defined actions. For now biological cognitive enhancement and brain-computer interfaces (meaning directly connecting to the brain) have both been tested and were successful in improving general intelligence. Biological science may provide means to improve natural human intellect. 

Moving towards transhumanism means no more man versus machine but man and the machine. 

Evidences of AI reaching singularity in a near future are as heavy as evidences prophesying the opposite. Indeed much of the singularity seem confronted to mind. Only limit is of the mind and emotions which are quite unique.

On the other hand argue that even if a day might come when AI will perfect its hardware, learning and algorithmic abilities , it still won’t be able to compete with the humain brain and be able to develop some sort of mind and emotional intelligence. Indeed can emotions be trained ?

As for now, AI remains for the general publique playful tools and humanoids like Mitsuku the chatbot, Sophia the first humanoid-citizen and ALTER3. Interesting to see how the narrative about AI powered machines and devices has evolved in order to gain back the trust of people and put on a more friendly image. AI is here to assist humans, enhance our abilities and is no threat is the new adage. Amazon’s Alexa and Echo or Google Home are not called voice assistants for nothing. Also AI is being introduced to the mainstream via culture. Sophia the humanoid has been granted citizenship and is covering magazines, The MET gala explored the theme in 2016 with Manus x Machina. More and more museums are integrating digital arts and AI-focused installations into their agenda. Last year Paris Grand Palais welcomed Artists and Robots during spring while Fondation EDF is exclusively dedicated to arts and social experiments using data and new technologies such as VR and AI.  The movie H.E.R explored the notions of love and AI while Black Mirror regularly dig deeper into the drifts technology bring us. Finally, I saw last week a billboard in the underground announcing the arrival of the Kara and Connor, the first androids wax doll at Musée Grévin (French wax dolls museum). Kara and Connor are actually the main characters of video game Detroit Become Human which has an interesting synopsis.  

“Tomorrow I meet my first android”

Singularity is a fascinating theme as it universally challenges the notion of progress which has been the West religion since the late 19th century. How much progress is too much ? When do we reach posthumanism ?

Across the past two centuries, the narrative about AI has evolved and drastically changed. AI first occurred as creatures and abominations (Frankenstein) during the 19th. It then appeared as dumb machines made to serve humans. However mid-century the narrative evolved again and we explored superhuman robots first admired then feared. Where are we now ? As I write those lines, we can clearly see a drastic change of narrative which began in the 2010’s and should be named Life with AI Man and AI shall coexist  and merge in total equality. This is how we will reach the ultimate singularity. Is modernity worth the loss of humanity ?

Sources :

Laurent, Alexandre, “L’Intelligence Artificielle produit des gilets jaunes, in L’Express, November 2018

Karel, Čapek, “R.U.R”, 1920

Good, Irving John. 1965. “Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine.” In Advances in Computers, edited by Franz L. Alt and Morris Rubinoff, 31–88. Vol. 6. New York: Academic Press, 1966

Luke, Muehlauser, “Intelligence Explosion FAQ” , Machine Intelligence Research Institute, 2013 

Vernor, Vinge, “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era.”,  In Vision-21: Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering in the Era of Cyberspace, 11–22. NASA Conference Publication 10129. NASA Lewis Research Center, 1993 


#WWRTW : What we’re reading this week – #Week5

DATA AND PRIVACY : Facebook is working on a new service combining Messenger, Instagram dm AND Whatsapp

The services will continue to operate as stand-alone apps, but their underlying technical infrastructure will be unified, said four people involved in the effort. That will bring together three of the world’s largest messaging networks, which between them have more than 2.6 billion users, allowing people to communicate across the platforms for the first time. Zuckerberg also ordered that the apps all incorporate end-to-end encryption, the people said, a major step that protects messages from being viewed by anyone except the participants in a conversation. More here.

GOOGLE shuts down GOOGLE+ amidst data leaks exposure

Google says it will take some time to delete all Google+ data, so portions of your account might still be visible over the next few months. Access to other Google services will not be impacted as part of the Google+ shutdown. More here.

ADVERTISING : Hulu launches new “less stressful” ad banners in videos : Coca among the firsts to test

Hulu will start placing static banner ads on a portion of the screen when people press pause while watching certain shows and videos on its ad-supported service. The ads will appear five seconds after a viewer pauses a video, in case a person paused simply to rewind or fast-forward. And the ad will only appear on a portion of the screen with a semi-transparent overlay so that people can still see the content that they had paused and are less startled by the ad’s appearance. More here.

FASHION : Nicolas Ghesquière to launch namesame label supported by LVMH 

Ghesquière renewed his contract with Louis Vuitton last year and the development of own his eponymous fashion brand was part of the deal, sources have said. The precise timing of the launch is not yet known internally but the first details are expected to emerge in the course of the year, they said. The new fashion house will be based in Paris. More here.

The curious success of Peppa Pig in China

The Peppa Pig market, with 800 global licenses, is so lucrative it has spurred counterfeiters in China, some that entwine the pig with brand logos from Dior and Supreme (Angelababy sported a faux Peppa Pig Gucci T-shirt). Earlier this month, many vendors from the online Chinese shopping site Taobao jumped on the sensation as bootleg copies of Peppa-related material tied to an upcoming feature film started popping up for sale, including a range of unlicensed T-shirts, bags, etc. More here.

Karl Lagerfeld invites  Carine Roitfeld on his namesake label

To kick off the partnership, the duo will unveil “The Edit by Carine Roitfeld” in September. The line will comprise “essential pieces” selected from the designer’s autumn/winter 2019 collection that have a “mix-and-match appeal”. More here.

BEAUTY : Amazon launches budget beauty brand. FT wonders if it worth it.

The concept of budget beauty isn’t new, but its time is now. Thanks to premium-looking brands such as The Ordinary, the low-priced, high-tech skincare line founded by the late Brandon Truaxe, and Beauty Pie, a glossy looking, high-quality cosmetics and skincare line founded by Marcia Kilgore, it’s suddenly cool to talk about costs, profit margins and integrity. Transparency about pricing has become a significant factor for social media-savvy consumers who’ve grown up expecting more for less, and any stigma attached to supermarket and own-label brands is fading. More here.

Glossier joins the inclusivity fest

Glossier extends its Perfecting Skin Tint and Stretch Concealer to 12 adaptable shades. The move follows a busy 2018 for Glossier, which announced last February that it had raised $52 million in Series C fundraising, opened a permanent bricks-and-mortar store in LA as well as a New York flagship and dropped a new ‘Generation G’ lipstick line.

YSL Beauty’s take on Gender-neutral beauty

Beauty is a fascinating world of pigments, glitters and powders. However beware of the shades when it comes to Millennials and Gen Z. Indeed Beauty might be the most affected segment by disruption – or the need to one shall say – with acceptance being the flagship banner of a whole new generation. And things become more itchy with Gen Z.

The group is far away from millennials who paved way to redifinition of beauty through diversity campaigns. Instead Gen Z decided redefinition was cancelled coming with a 100% tolerance or nothing motto. They are the business and they know it. If you don’t have it, someone else might. Indeed the generation aged 13-22 today self-defines as specific as 61% include themselves as part of a niche. (Beautycon) Gender, sexual identity, race, among an extensive list of micro identifiyers. The quest for inclusiveness of millennials resulted in micro-micro-communities Gen Z are proudly boasting about today.

Social media is for sure a factor explaining the rapid growth in consumption of beauty products (skin care, make up) among Gen Z as 57% of them confess seeing themselves through a lens at least once per day and a strong 82% thinking of their digital and physical selves as being interchangeable. Thus we can imagine why the need for products that perfectly match their personality with a neat precision. 

And the new YSL Beauty commercial for Rouge Volupté line taps right into this celebrating gender neutral beauty. Featuring brand’s latest  ambassador insta-celeb Kaia Gerber, the 0:38 sec. clips does not go your typical romantic story. Stepping in a bus the young Kaia is greated with a cheesy line by the driver one football player would drop in some early 2000’s American movie : “You need a ride ?” 

Then everything gets wild in it. The poor attempts of the bus driver to make eye contact fell flat as we can hear the catchy hook of Hyphen Hyphen’s “I don’t even like boys, don’t you understand”. Instead the 17 years old girl paints the lips of her male friend the same hypnotic pink she wears on hers. Finally she takes him outside the bus with a goofy bus driver left behind. 

The clip is right in line with Gen Z perception of friendship as they are losing interest for romance and random dating suggest recent studies. The group grows up instead focused on personal development, self expression and having totally integrated notions of gender fluidity and non-binary.

The clip was originally posted on YSL Beauty Youtube channel and Instagram’s account and was viewed 4k and 10k in a week and was followed by a traditional campaign on their social media accounts with commercial and packshots featuring shopping tags and a focus on Kaia Gerber and Chinese model Allen Ye. But the biggest reach was by Kaia Gerber’s share of the commercial which viewership was multiplied by 47 compared to YSL Beauty’s with more than 477k views. But this is not the only story going on here. On the other side of the wall – the screen – YSL drop gender neutral awarness and goes for a more traditional approach in product launch to meet East expectations.

Indeed the launch was highly marketed in Asia. 3 Asian beauty hotspots were particularly targeted with 3 different PR initiatives :

  • Taïwan : Cocktail launch party in Taipei with macro and micro influencers and celebs
  • Korea : Product discovery approach with well-detailled tests by beauty influencers
  • Malaysia : Beauty event and photoshoot organized by local PR agency in Kuala Lumpur
Credits : Artpaul00331, Weicutey, Selinayoutuber
Credits : Ryeo.mi
Credits : Ainedruce, Jyjosephine, Aliciatal

The campaign in Asia is far from gender-neutral topics which remain overally Western concerns and focuses on local beauty icons and influencers. YSL Beauty as well as its competitors Chanel Beauty and Dior makeup mainly rely on their e-pr activities. YSL Beauty however is particularly mastering the art with an influence close to even to mother house Saint Laurent. The brand collects impressive earned media value months after months thanks to its epr activites especially in Asia. (Tribe) 

Boys wearing makeup is not a new thing. Brands publicly embracing it is. The brand seems to have taken notes from smaller beauty brands which snatch a great part of beauty levereging on differenciating products, innovative formula and also responsible ingredients/packagings. The genuine approach and appreciation of beauty neutral products has been praised with users supporting YSL embracing gender neutrality to let everyone “live to shine”. The product launch is a reminder that going bold and easy is the path to make an impact. Chanel’s timid approach to it and segmentation boy vs female cosmetics received mixed feeling for exemple. YSL beauty throws the brick on the wall with a “one for all” approach embraces gender neutral beauty on the front and nurtures its relation with Asian influencers on the back. A win-win situation.

YSL Beauty Rouge Volupté Shine
Credits : Fabien Constant, Storner Prod

Le Nylon de Prada

Il y a quelques saisons encore, le futur de Prada était très compromis et peu auraient parié sur le retour en force de la griffe italienne. Les louanges de la presse aussi fortes soient-elles ne pouvaient couvrir le son de la chute des ventes. Cependant, 2018 a marqué un nouveau tournant pour la maison milanaise fondée en 1913 qui renait de ses cendres et ce grâce à une matière : le nylon. Le nylon pocone de Prada conquiert une nouvelle fois et pourtant ce n’était pas gagné. Comment et alors que peu y croyaient Miuccia Prada est parvenue à remettre la toile noire à l’honneur ?

Une excentrique

Pour comprendre le retour saisissant du nylon et sa place dans l’ADN Prada, il faut faire un bond en arrière, dans les jeunes années de l’effrontée italienne. Miuccia Prada est une excentrique. Nantie, l’héritière de Fratelli Prada – spécialiste de la bagagerie – sort pourtant des sentiers battus. Exemple : lorsqu’elle manifeste, elle porte la jupe et du Saint Laurent tandis que ses camarades pensent s’émanciper en jeans et sneakers. Le chic inapproprié. Aussi, elle étudie les sciences politiques à Milan et le mime et s’affilie à la gauche soixante-huitarde italienne. On soupçonne déjà un esprit taquin chez la femme aux multiples facettes. Sa rencontre hasardeuse avec Patrizio Bertelli, son futur partenaire puis époux – alors que celui-ci vendait du Fratelli Prada contrefait – sera significative dans le destin de la marque. En effet, en 1978, Miuccia Prada prend officiellement les rênes de la maison de son défunt grand-père alors au bord du gouffre. Prada s’émancipe de Fratelli et part à la conquête du monde.

Au début des années 1980, Miuccia Prada a l’idée d’intégrer le nylon dans la confection de ses produits. À l’époque, le nylon est principalement utilisé pour confectionner des parachutes et tentes militaires ou encore emballer les sacs de luxe. La matière waterproof, solide et peu couteuse offre un grand potentiel selon Miuccia qui décide d’en faire la signature de Prada. Ainsi, Prada développe le Pocono, une toile de nylon brevetée au fini soyeux. En 1983 la première ligne de chaussures est lancée, en 1989 le prêt- à-porter. Le succès est progressif seulement l’année 1984 sera un marqueur d’excellence.

C’est une curieuse année. Dans le monde Apple sort son premier Macintosh en réponse au PC de Microsoft, le VIH est identifié par un chercheur français, le profilage ADN adopté, Ghostbusters sort sur grand écran et Ronald Regan est élu quarantième président des États-Unis. D’ailleurs le lifestyle étasunien est adopté mondialement. C’est la naissance de la working girl en tailleur et le style Ralph Lauren casual est adopté par l’élite mondiale symbolisant l’American greatness.

Cette année-là Prada sort son sac à dos Vela. Large, noir et signé d’une plaque métallique triangulaire, le sac à dos en nylon de Prada est un ovni lors de sa sortie à une époque où les femmes trimballent leurs sacs à main de plus en plus petits de da-dame dans toutes les grandes villes. Un doigt d’honneur assumé par Miuccia.

“ Miuccia trace sa ligne rouge jusqu’aux États-Unis où elle envahit la street mais aussi l’Upper East Side de Manhattan où les bourgeois et fortunés adoptent le nylon comme seconde peau. ”

Il faudra cependant attendre les années 1990 pour que le nylon soit réellement encensé et adopté en masse. La créatrice déclare alors au New Yorker en 1990 « Je veux toujours marier la technique industrielle au patrimoine du passé et à la tradition artisanale. » Un choc instantané qui crée le chic de la décennie. Du nylon, du noir, un triangle métallique, une ligne rouge, Linea Rossa – dit Prada Sport à l’époque – était née. Miuccia trace sa ligne rouge jusqu’aux États-Unis où elle envahit la street mais aussi l’Upper East Side de Manhattan où les bourgeois et fortunés adoptent le nylon comme seconde peau. Le succès de Prada Sport est alors incontesté. Prada s’insère avec aisance chez toutes les classes sociales. La légèreté du nylon inspire liberté et assurance. Acclamée pour son esthétique intellectuelle et fonctionnelle, Prada crée aussi la nouvelle boutique de luxe, épurée et futuriste. Ce sont les années Prada. Miuccia accumule les récompenses dont un CFDA catégorie meilleur designer en 1994. Et l’article qui sera la signature indélébile de Prada à l’aube de l’an 2000 sera le sac à dos à double poches extérieures qui était paru en 1989 dans les pages de Vogue. Pourtant le nouveau millénaire va redistribuer les cartes.

Les années noires

En effet, les années 2000 sont celles du clinquant, du bling bling. On a survécu au bug du nouveau millénaire, l’heure n’est plus à l’anxiété mais bien à la jouissance. Carrie Bradshaw sirote son cosmo son Baguette de Fendi sous le bras, Paris Hilton fait la tournée des clubs branchés avec son Saddle de Dior et les rappeurs exposent leurs ceintures D&G dans tous leurs clips. Cette curieuse décennie renforce les titans de la mode qui secure the bag. C’est l’époque des it-girls et it-bags en série. Le City de Balenciaga, le Murakami de Vuitton, le Paddington de Chloé mais aussi le PS1 de Proenza Schouler ou encore le Rocco d’Alexander Wang. La vague de jeunes créateurs profite également de cette ère. La crise cependant met un terme à la fête et exige un retour à la retenue voire au snobisme avec une montée en puissance du minimalisme et de l’austérité portée par Phoebe Philo chez Céline, Raf Simons chez Jil Sander et les sœurs Olsen avec The Row.

Le nylon noir de Prada ne satisfait ni les fans du showoff et encore moins les minimalistes qui désirent des produits signature sans signature surtout et surtout de haute qualité…alors de la toile de nylon…

Prada range son nylon en réaction et s’engouffre dans une esthétique du fantastique et candide qui séduit en Asie surtout où les clients ayant enfin le pouvoir d’achat pour achètent en masse des classiques. La maison ne fait pas de vagues en oubliant le nylon tout en étant en perte de vitesse progressive. Il y aura quelques collections qui se démarqueront cependant durant cette phase de creux, printemps-été 2011 par exemple.

L’année 2014 sera une année noire pour le groupe Prada – qui affecte aussi Miu Miu – avec une chute drastique des ventes en Asie Pacifique jusque-là premier marché du groupe devant l’Europe et pour cause. En 2014, la Chine est frappée de plein fouet par des turbulences économiques et une crise de la corruption entache les habitudes de consommation des chinois affluents. S’ils ont toujours une bonne appréciation de la marque, les clients du luxe chinois préfèrent se réfugier auprès valeurs sûres telles que Louis Vuitton, Chanel et Hermès tandis que les chinois de classe moyenne favorisent des marques premiums plus abordables, Michael Kors et Tory Burch en tête. Conséquences, les parts du groupe perdent un tiers de leur valeur quand les profits s’effondrent de 44% en trois mois pour finir le mois d’octobre à 74,5 millions d’euros.

Prada se retrouve en délicate position stratégique : couper les prix de façon significative attirerait masse de clients mais amoindrirait son image de luxe pour se ranger du côté des marques premiums telles que Michael Kors et ses sacs de qualité à prix modérés. Une concession que se refuse de faire Prada, à raison. Pour s’en sortir, Prada sait qu’elle doit directement partir à la conquête des millennials, étendre sa gamme de prix et surtout innover. Nous sommes à l’aube de l’année 2015 et Prada s’apprête à prendre un nouvel envol, du plomb dans l’aile certes mais avec aplomb.

Turbulences et Renaissance

Prête à innover, Prada pense trouver son salut dans la tradition. Et qui dit tradition, dit nylon pour Prada. Action est donc prise.

Janvier 2015, Miuccia Prada envoie sur le podium homme automne-hiver 2015 une armada d’hommes et de femmes vêtus de noir. C’est le premier retour affirmé du nylon pour Prada. Chaque invité trouve sur son siège un manifeste sur lequel nous pouvons lire entre autres « Le genre est un contexte et le contexte est souvent genré ». Le manifeste entend justifier le choix d’une collection unisexe. Une démarche avant-gardiste lorsque l’on observe la mode aujourd’hui. En backstages Miuccia assure avec confiance qu’il s’agit-là d’un vestiaire nouveau « uniforme, sévère, élégant ». Comme souvent, les critiques affichent une neutralité exacerbée concernant cette collection pour ne pas avoir à exprimer leur défaveur envers la créatrice respectée. Si Miuccia parait confiante sur ce nouveau Prada directement destiné aux millennials, elle assure ses arrières deux mois après avec une collection femme automne-hiver 2015 à base de nylon mais davantage colorée à la guimauve et rassurante avec une flopée de sacs destinée à sa clientèle traditionnelle. Avant-gardiste mais pas complètement tête brûlée.

“…le nylon pocone de 2018 raconte une histoire différente de celui des 1980. Un conte noir, où le rêve progressiste a laissé place à la dystopie amère des années 2010.”

La réception mitigée de ce Prada se traduit par deux années d’entre-deux où la maison expérimente de nouveaux concepts sur podiums et publicise avec autant de puissance ses classiques. Une stratégie du ni-ni qui ne fait qu’accentuer l’hésitation de Prada. Les revenus de la maison s’effondrent de 18% durant les six premiers mois de 2017. Et puis finalement la maison tranche. L’innovation et les millennials ou rien. Ainsi, Prada réintroduit timidement son nylon en mai 2017 à l’occasion de son défilé croisière 2018 afin de nous préparer au virage franc qu’elle s’apprête à effectuer l’année suivante. C’est cette même année qu’est lancé Prada 365 « Un flux de données visuel continu » visant à multiplier les collaborations et sortir du rythme traditionnel de la mode divisé en deux saisons.

Ainsi renait avec assurance le nylon chez Prada en janvier et mars 2018, chez l’homme et la femme donc. Toutefois, le nylon pocone de 2018 raconte une histoire différente de celui des 1980. Un conte noir, où le rêve progressiste a laissé place à la dystopie amère des années 2010. En 2018 le VIH n’a toujours pas été vaincu, Apple est critiquée pour la course à la consommation qu’elle engendre, l’air toujours plus toxique et le rêve américain trumpien ne fait plus rêver grand monde. Dans le conscient collectif l’occident vit une crise multi-sectorielle et l’homme est dans un entre-deux où la chute ou l’ascension sont les seules issues. « Nous vivons une période intéressante car nous n’avons aucune idée de là où nous allons. Bien sûr que c’est effrayant et inquiétant mais aussi intéressant car de grands changements arrivent. » confie Miuccia.

C’est dans ce contexte sombre que s’inscrit le nouveau nylon de Prada. D’ailleurs avec notre vision de 2018, le sac à dos Prada en nylon noir s’apparente davantage à un sac de survie que d’émancipation comme tel c’était le cas lors de sa première célébration. À ce sujet, le survivalisme présent dans la mode n’est finalement que le reflet de nos tendances de consommation en société. Nous voulons des maisons, des villes et des services plus intelligents et fonctionnels. Véritable miroir, la mode reflète ce survivalisme criant. Les pantalons sont toujours plus épais, les manteaux volumineux, les couleurs franches voire fluorescentes. Le Balenciaga de Demna Gvasalia, le Calvin Klein de Raf Simons et l’esthétique déprimante de Gosha Rubchinskiy en sont les exemples les plus parlants.

Ce monde morose, c’est celui des millennials. Un monde du tout et du néant. La technologie a infiltré toutes les sphères du quotidien allant jusqu’à modifier la morphologie de la nature puis des relations humaines. Cette phase décliniste de l’humanité, Prada la capture très bien avec la renaissance du nylon, immortalisée dans le film Nylon Farm sorti en mai dernier. Un film saisissant à l’ambiance Black Mirror où l’homme cherche à s’émanciper du recours systématique à la technologie. Le film intelligent nous permet également de voir le procédé de création du nylon Prada dans son siège industriel en Toscane.

Toutefois détrompons-nous, Miuccia Prada voit passer la lumière à travers sa toile de nylon. Optimiste, elle confiait récemment « Tellement de personnes croient que la beauté sauvera le monde, je ne le pense pas. Le monde sera sauvé par l’intelligence, l’humanité et la générosité…et même l’amour peut-être .» C’est d’ailleurs l’amour qui a le dernier mot dans Nylon Farm.

Avec cette mise à jour du nylon, les paroles prononcées par Miuccia au New Yorker en 1990 trouvent un second souffle. Prada retrouve son esthétique intellectuelle et futuriste qui avait fait sa gloire dans les années 1990. Aussi, elle multiplie les collaborations autour du Nylon avec Prada 365 et Prada Invite. Les duos Herzog et De Meuron et Ronan et Erwan Bouroullec ou encore Rem Koolhaas réalisent l’exercice avec brio pour le défilé homme automne-hiver 2018 et l’opération est renouvelée en septembre dernier lors du défilé femme printemps-été 2019.

Aurions-nous raison de partager l’optimisme de Prada concernant le monde et le nylon ? Assurément. Prada vise juste avec cette nouvelle version du nylon destinée aux millennials avec des produits fonctionnels, nomades et un récit bien ancré dans son temps. Aussi, la maison a appris de ses erreurs, multiplie les collaborations et étend son accessibilité. Avec ce reboot du nylon et de Linea Rossa, Prada est prête à répondre à la demande grandissante d’articles de luxe streetwear favorisés par les millennials qui sont les plus grands consommateurs du luxe en puissance. Prada trouvera peut-être son salut avec cette esthétique fonctionnelle et unisexe.