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What’s up with Prada’s $995 volleyball?

Prada’s new “volley ball.” (Prada)

Look, we have been cooped up for some serious time. Many of us yearn to be outdoors, to take to the road, to travel, to bask on a beach.

Also, some of us desperately want new stuff.

For a select few of us, that stuff could include a $995 volleyball.

Prada Outdoor, the freshly launched collection from the Milanese fashion empire, is happy to provide. What, precisely, is Prada Outdoor? “Nature in its myriad forms takes centre stage in the latest Prada experience, encompassing various landscapes and the changing of the seasons,” the website reads.

With this changing comes “Coast,” which is one of Prada Outdoor’s “landscapes” — the others being Garden, Mountain and Snow — and classified as a “capsule collection,” fashionese for small and for a limited time only. Billed as “an ode to the carefree atmosphere of the beach,” Coast is delightful and witty, retro beach toggery enveloped in terry cloth and sherbet colors. The prices are many things, but “carefree” is not among them, unless you happen to be lousy with disposable income and pay comparatively bupkis in taxes.

The collection, available online and only at a few stores for a matter of weeks, offers a panoply of Prada paraphernalia: yoga mats ($1,990), Frisbees ($650) and — our personal favorite — a vibrantly colored volleyball stamped with the Prada triangle logo and wrapped in a peculiar harness.

Specifically, it is a $995 rubber “volley ball” complete with “a nylon tape carry case” that resembles nothing involving beach volleyball and more a prop that strayed from some rigorous BDSM activity. Beach volleyballs commonly range in price from $10 to $90 and are transported in mesh nylon bags because, you know, sand.

Frankly, the Prada ball would make a fetching handbag, a conversation piece. It is infectious, confident, original, jubilant. It is a ball that appears to be having one. Like so much regarding fashion, we admire everything about it except the price.

We have questions, so many questions.

First, why? Given that volleyball ranks among the more affordable and Democratic sports, played on a patch of beach, a lawn or in a gym with a ball and net, is it really primed to become the polo of sand? What is the intersection of volleyball enthusiasts and Pradanistas? Is the ball meant to be spiked or, like collectible action figures and high-end watches, wrapped in the original casing in perpetuity? Will buyers treat the ball as an objet to be displayed, a work of art akin to Jeff Koons’s “Total Equilibrium” series featuring Spalding basketballs floating in a tank of water, one fetching $17,189,000 in a 2016 Christie’s auction?

$39,000 for a wristwatch? Customers don’t even blink, and go for seconds.

Alas, we called Prada and they were unable to provide answers. The volleyball, much like Wilson in the Tom Hanks pandemic-foreshadower “Cast Away,” is a presence loaded with meaning that has yet to be explained.

Luxury brands have slapped their logos on everyday objects for some time. Luxury is a form of permission to reimagine design and merge a quotidian item with that brand’s specific world and vision. Their vertiginous prices command our attention, if only to shake our heads. In 2009, Louis Vuitton created an $8,250 skateboard in collaboration with designer Stephen Sprouse. Four years ago, Prada produced a $185 paper clip, which burned up the Internet, buzz being key to keeping a brand vital and something admittedly we may be fueling here.

Limited edition is crucial to a luxury product’s success, the old supply-and-demand bathed in novelty and evanescence. On the other side of the initial purchase, a robust resale market awaits. A Chanel football, which originally sold for $175, is listed on 1stdibs for $5,490. Which makes the Prada volleyball a potential bargain or smart investment. Or, perhaps, it’s nothing of the kind.

The Prada ball is a curio to people more fluent in sport than Italian fashion. “We consider volleyball as one word, and they have it as two on the website,” says USA Volleyball spokeswoman B.J. Hoeptner Evans. “Is it supposed to be a ball that you volley?” When volleyballs are in heavy use, they “last quite a while. We get new ones every year or two,” she says. It’s hard to imagine wanting to scuff a $995 interpretation or trying to score a replacement for summer 2023.

Wilson Sporting Goods manufactures the iconic, movie-inspired $19.99 volleyball, while its top performance outdoor volleyball is the $64.95 OPTX AVP, as felicitously colored as the Prada ball is, in canary yellow with swaths of black, and pink and orange accents.

Amanda Lamb, Wilson’s marketing director for team sports, adores the Prada ball.

“I love the storytelling. I love the sport being in the luxury spotlight,” she says. “There’s a whole other consumer base willing to invest in their high-end passion. It’s good for the sport and the culture when they collide.”

Wilson will collide with the NBA and Louis Vuitton in late July to produce a limited-edition basketball, designed by Virgil Abloh, retailing for $2,210.

“There’s a lot of interest in collecting luxury products and there’s such a level of interest in the game,” says Lamb, who refers to it as “an aspirational basketball.” The ball, to be clear, is not suitable for play. “There is a demand where luxury or super high-end lifestyle brands come together with sporting goods brands to help tell these stories.” Wilson previously partnered with YSL for tennis. Lamb looks forward to other joint ventures: “We’re looking for ways to marry up the brand.”

Basketball has long been about money. NBA stars are, literally, larger than most of us. They’re their own brands. Celebrities and moguls pay dearly to sit courtside and be crashed into and sweat upon by those icons.

The same cannot be said of volleyball. So who is the customer for the $995 Prada ball?

“They’re paying for the Prada logo. I’m sure it’s a perfectly fine ball,” Hoeptner Evans says. “If people want to have fun with the ball they can. Or it would look nice on a shelf.”

Read more:

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