The Metropolitan Museum shows a striking exhibition about fashion idols, Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada, on display until 19 August 2012
“It was impossible to shock the fashion world like Schiaparelli was able to do”.
The Metropolitan's Spring 2012 Costume Institute is glad to present an exhibition titled Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations. Inspired by the Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias, who illustrated "Impossible Interviews" for the magazine Vanity Fair in the 1930s, the exhibition features an improbable conversation between these two beloved women.
The show explores the striking affinities and dissimilarities between Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada, famous Italian fashion designers coming from different eras. Schiaparelli worked in Paris from the 1920s until her fashion house closed in 1954 and was closely associated with the Surrealist movement. She created such iconic pieces as the "Tear" dress, the "Shoe" hat and the "Bug" necklace. Prada, on the other hand, took over her family's Milan-based business in 1978 and started to make fashion based on the eclectic nature of Postmodernism.
However, Schiaparelli and Prada never come to any resound conclusion to their conversation. Indeed, Schiaparelli tries to get Prada to agree that fashion design is Art: Prada dismisses this label while Schiaparelli embraces it. So, it may be no surprise that Prada wasn't too keen on being compared to such fashion designer and she was reluctant to showcase her creations along to Schiaparelli’s at first. However, during the gala for the exhibition opening, she told reporters that she had to change her mind about the effectiveness of those works in dialogue.
Amazing fashion ensemble are presented along with the videos of simulated conversations between Schiaparelli and Prada directed by the renowned Baz Luhrmann, who focuses on how they pay attention to similar fashion details through very different approaches.
Although a sense of dream and playfulness are recurring motifs in the two designers' collections, Schiaparelli and Prada rarely agree. As the seven film clips show, the women talk about how they try to avoid out-dated clichés and conventional beauty when they design fashion. Whereas Schiaparelli designs fabulous hats, necklaces and jackets to celebrate woman's beauty, Prada stays away from any kind of decorations near the woman face, focusing instead on creating something beautiful out of mismatched prints and fabrics. In Schiaparelli's fashion, ornamental hats are the big thing. She was famous for her shoe hat, a result of her collaboration with the Spanish artist Salvador Dali. For Prada, ornamental shoes are her best creations and her latest collection is of shoes inspired by vintage cars. She was re-imagined a vintage Cadillac with tail fins as a shoe with tail lights.
The exhibition showcases approximately ninety designs and thirty accessories by Schiaparelli (1890–1973) from the late 1920s to the early 1950s and by Prada from the late 1980s to the present. Drawn from The Costume Institute's collection and the Prada Archive, as well as other institutions and private collections, signature objects by both designers are arranged in seven themed galleries: "Waist Up/Waist Down," "Ugly Chic," "Hard Chic," "Naïf Chic," "The Classical Body," "The Exotic Body," and "The Surreal Body."
"Waist Up/Waist Down" looks at Schiaparelli's use of decorative detailing as a response to restaurant dressing in the heyday of 1930s café society and shows Prada's below-the-waist clothing as a symbolic expression of modernity and femininity. An accessories section of this gallery called "Neck Up/Knees Down" showcases Schiaparelli's hats and Prada's footwear.
"Ugly Chic" reveals how both women subvert ideals of beauty and glamour by playing with good and bad taste through colour, prints and textiles.
"Hard Chic" tells the influence of uniforms and menswear to promote a minimal aesthetic that is intended to both deny and enhance femininity.
"Naïf Chic" focuses on Schiaparelli and Prada's adoption of a girlish sensibility to subvert expectations of age-appropriate dressing.
"The Classical Body," which also incorporates "The Pagan Body," explores the designers' engagement with antiquity through the gaze of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
"The Exotic Body" describes the influence of Eastern cultures through fabrics such as lamé and silhouettes such as saris and sarongs.
"The Surreal Body" in the final gallery illustrate how both women affect contemporary images of the female body through Surrealistic practices such as displacement, playing with scale and blurring the boundaries between reality and illusion as well as the natural and the artificial.
At the exhibition ended, the feeling is that both are extremely strong personalities who celebrate the figure of emancipated women. We can't help but wonder which fashion artist might be in an impossible conversation with Prada in the 21st century.