The Wardrobe with Verde Visconti

Boyish

“I fell in love with this outfit right away,” says Verde of a tropical print silk shirt that she’s teamed with pinstriped wool trousers from the PRADA men’s S/S ’14 collection. “They’re perfect for work and suit my tomboyish side: I hate spending time fussing.” Here, Verde has rolled up her trousers to show off her PRADA women’s laceless Oxfords in ombré leather.

Fluid

This purple-and-white silk print dress with tie-dye motifs is from MIU MIU’s S/S ’07 collection and features the simplest cut: a silk rectangle with a boat neck and three-quarter-length sleeves. “It’s one of the pillars of my wardrobe,” says Verde. “You just put it on, and off you go. It looks perfect with the simplest gold leather sandals, like the PRADA ones I’m wearing, and has a beautiful line.”

Ornate

“I rarely wear a full look from a fashion collection,” says Verde. “But this is an exception.” Some women’s looks were shown in the S/S ’14 men’s PRADA show. “And the moment I saw this printed silk dress from the PRADA women’s 2014 resort collection on the catwalk, I had to have it,” she says. “I like the dense embroidery, and the fact that such a luxurious item is paired with plimsolls.”

Precise

The lab coat look is one of PRADA’s style signatures. Here Verde is wearing an elongated white cotton shirt from the company’s S/S ’10 collection with a pair of black-and-white print silk jersey trousers from S/S ’13. “I like the idea of a single item that doesn’t require anything extra to work,” Verde explains. “That’s why I nearly always wear shirts or dresses: they’re fuss-free.”

Womanly

This ensemble sees Verde in a curvy MIU MIU black crêpe skirt with a Jack Russell print from S/S ’10, which she’s paired with a white cotton shirt with black piping from the slightly psychedelic S/S ’08 PRADA collection. Verde recommends the skirt’s high waist: “It creates a classy, womanly silhouette.” Full disclosure: the print is no coincidence; Verde’s own dog, Fermo, is a Jack Russell terrier.

Sophisticated

“You can dress blouses up or wear them with jeans, but you’ll always feel you’re wearing the right thing.” Verde’s feminine heart-print silk pussy-bow blouse comes from the S/S ’00 PRADA collection and is an unusual choice for her. “I usually prefer masculine shirts – in my teens I always borrowed my brother’s Brooks Brothers ones – but this is one of my all-time favourites.”

The woman who’s always at Miuccia Prada’s side is Verde Visconti, herself a driving force in the world of Italian fashion. At the helm of both Prada and Miu Miu’s communications for many years, Verde has amassed a dazzling personal wardrobe that’s probably rivalled only by that of her boss.

If it’s true that women like showing off their newest possessions and men their oldest, then Verde Visconti is an exception to the rule. As Prada and Miu Miu’s PR director, she certainly doesn’t have to wait for the magical moment when a runway look finally appears in stores, and her wardrobe is probably rivalled only by Mrs Prada’s. But you’re unlikely to see her sporting this year’s model. “Maybe it’s just the fear of being too trendy,” she says. “But whatever I buy just waits in the closet until the right moment comes, which generally happens to be years later.”

There’s not much of the diehard fashionista about Ms Visconti. Quietly reserved and almost always present wherever her boss goes in public, walkie-talkie at the ready, Verde is as discreetly elegant as her aristocratic name might suggest. The Viscontis go back centuries; you can track the first Verde, or Viridis, Visconti to 1352. “I love my name,” she says – it means green in Italian and is incredibly unusual. “I am very protective of it.”

Verde was born in Milan in 1969 but raised “in the country”, as she understatedly puts it: she grew up in a haunted mansion near Piacenza. In Milan itself, there is a street named after her 19th-century forebear Uberto Visconti di Modrone, though her great-grand-uncle (“on both sides,” explains Verde: “my mother’s mother and father’s father were related”) is better known. He was Luchino Visconti, the director of mid-20th-century cinematic masterpieces including The Leopard, The Damned and Death in Venice. “I was only six when he passed away,” says Verde. “I would have loved to meet him. I am constantly told how truly special he was.” She seems, at least, to have inherited his perfectionism. It was such that he would insist that drawers on film sets be filled with embroidered bed linens even if they were never to be opened by the actors. Atmosphere, he believed, was everything.

In spite of a stylish upbringing and the natural-born chic of her mother and grandmother, Verde says she was “a bit of a tomboy. I spent my childhood studying and riding horses.” Then, in her late teens, everything changed. “The first dress I fell in love with was an Alaïa – I’d begged for it forever,” she recalls. “Kenzo was another favourite of mine, probably because of the prints.”

Her love of prints has, of course, stood her in good stead at Prada. Her favourites are those in the Fairy Tales series from S/S 2008, while her most enduring Prada item is a pair of lace-up brogues. “They’re so old now, I feel like they’ve been with me forever,” she says. Her tomboy side is still visible in her choice of transport: a Harley-Davidson, which she rides most days to the Prada HQ on Via Andrea Maffei from her apartment near Via Paolo Sarpi.

“I love my name – it means green in Italian and is incredibly unusual. I am very protective of it.”

Verde’s own style is as idiosyncratic and unexpected as that of the house she works for. “With Prada, it’s OK to change your mind,” she says. “It’s not that you’re simply allowed to, more that you’re encouraged to. I can be in a meringue dress one day and looking more like a man the next.” Does she take things from the actual menswear collection, then? “A lot!” she says. “Pants, jackets, pyjamas, sweaters… They make me happy and unselfconscious about my body. I can be very clumsy, and I stop worrying about that when I’m in those clothes.”

But whether she’s chosen a man’s jacket, a librarian-like grey sweater-and-skirt combination, or an outfit announced by a hectic pattern, what immediately stands out are the delicate yet strong features of Verde’s face and the long, centre-parted hair that’s often tied into a ponytail. Verde rarely wears make-up and mostly chooses flat shoes. “I’m not very good with my hands,” she says of her lack of interest in applying mascara. “And I’m not great at balancing on heels.”

Although she’s spent her entire adult life in fashion, Verde started studying literature at university in Milan, after growing up thinking she wanted to be a vet. But then she met the photographer Fabrizio Ferri, a pioneering force in 1980s Italian fashion, who asked her to model for him. “He spotted me at a party. I was terrified. I thought he was interested in something else!” Once her cousin had clarified that he was one of the hottest photographers in Milan, Verde went on to do a six-page shoot with him for Italian Elle (“I got so nervous, I came up in a violent red rash from stomach to forehead”) and then spent the following year working exclusively with Ferri on editorials for L’Uomo Vogue, US GQ and others, and campaigns for brands including L’Oreal and Max Mara. “After that I went to an agency, but I was too shy to go to castings,” she says. Nonetheless, Avedon shot her for the iconic black-and-white magazine Egoïste and for an Audemars Piguet campaign. “Though I turned down a calendar shoot with Helmut Newton. If only I could go back. What a stupid girl!”

Since 1983, Ferri had been running the era-defining Industria Superstudio photography complex in south Milan. “And it just seemed natural to go and work there,” says Verde. In 1996, she went to Prada, though she’d met Miuccia several years earlier. “I was modelling in a Mirabella story about Mrs Prada,” says Verde, “and the shoot happened in her home. That’s serendipity, no?” Since starting out as an editorial assistant, she’s quietly and efficiently moved upwards to the rarefied job of handling special projects. Among these are the Miu Miu Women’s Tales, short films aimed at developing the careers of female directors, who have so far included the Iranian Massy Tadjedin, the LA-based Ava DuVernay, the Italian Giada Colagrande and the Palestinian Hiam Abbass. The Tales focus mostly on femininity and transformation – young models compare grooming tips in Zoe Cassavetes’ Powder Room, while in Lucrecia Martel’s Muta, glamourpusses emerge, chrysalis-like, to take over a ship at dawn. “We’re always in search of collaborations where we have the possibility to go beyond fashion and investigate creativity in other fields,” Verde says.

Verde is, by her own admission, happiest behind the scenes, and most probably happiest at Prada. “I’ve spent so much of my professional life here,” she says, “it’s very hard to tell where work ends and family begins.”