Italian fashion icon Prada said Sunday they have appointed Belgian designer Raf Simons as their co-creative director.

Prada said Simons, considered one of his generation's most talented designers and a veteran of Dior and Calvin Klein, would take up his post on April 2.

Miuccia Prada, 70, unveiled the surprise news on the fifth day of a Milan Fashion Week disrupted by a clutch of coronavirus cases barely an hour away from the event.

"And I'm probably going to have to work even harder than before," she added, looking visibly elated at the prospect of welcoming Simons aboard.

"We hold each other in high regard, we respect each other and we are very much looking forward to seeing where this collaboration will take us," said Prada.

A statement said that Simons, 52, would have "equal responsibilities for creative input and decision-making."

The pair's first collection will be for spring/summer 2021 and is to be presented in Milan in September.

Raf Simons said that he and Prada, who have known each other for 15 years, were out to place creativity firmly at the heart of fashion Raf Simons said that he and Prada, who have known each other for 15 years, were out to place creativity firmly at the heart of fashion Photo: AFP / Angela Weiss

Simons noted that "our relationship started one year before I took creative direction of Jil Sander in 2005."

Since then, he and Prada have maintained a "dialogue about everything, about fashion, about politics, contents," the Belgian designer added.

Simons said they share the belief that "creativity still is at the core of fashion," and want to work out how designers can "together question their own position in the fashion system."

Patrizio Bertelli, Miuccia Prada's husband and company chief executive, said: "It is the first time in the history of fashion that two such important stylists and of such statures will be working together.

"The Prada group has always been capable of anticipating global changes in fashion and we are still showing as much today," he told a hastily convened press conference.

Prada said in a statement that the new partnership "is born from a deep reciprocal respect and from an open conversation -- it is a mutual decision, proposed and determined by both parties" who would seek to be innovative and "push boundaries."

The firm added that Prada and Simons would bring "a new approach to the very definition of creative direction for a fashion brand -- a strong challenge to the idea of singularity of creative authorship."

In addition to heading Jil Sander, Simons created his own brand, Raf by Raf.

He left Calvin Klein, where he had been chief creative officer, in December 2018 after the firm alluded to differences in their respective creative visions.