“All of a sudden, we are put together in such an important exhibition, and so I am obliged to confront with you and I’m really starting … really enjoying it.” Miuccia Prada
“Well, I am enjoying it too, I wonder… If we lived together at the same time, would we be friends or would we be foes?” Elsa Schiaparelli
On Tuesday, I was in The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art attending the Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibit. If you are not familiar with the creative work and vision of these two iconic fashion designers, Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada, I invite you to spend some time, watch the videos and enjoy the photos. The exhibit showcases two highly talented fashion designers discussing their views on their craft. Here are two women, from different eras, with strong, differing opinions on the subject of fashion, yet they share some common ground, albeit an intellectual one in the realm of fashion design. As Harold Koda, Curator for the exhibit suggested, “Juxtaposing the work of Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada allows us to explore how the past enlightens the present and how the present enlivens the past.” The exhibit did a difficult and terrific job of meshing the past with the present. It opens to the general public from May 10 – August 19th 2012.
“Had I not by pure chance become a maker of dresses, I could have become a sculptor.” Elsa Schiaparelli
“I’ve never wanted to be an artist. I’ve never wanted to be called an artist. The term itself seems old-fashioned.” Miuccia Prada
Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations Gallery Views Narrated by Andrew Bolton, Curator
As part of The Metropolitan Museum’s unique homage to Schiaparelli and Prada, we get to eavesdrop on a dinner table conversation between them. The Impossible Conversations video is a staged exchange, a fabrication of sorts, that uses actual words from both women to discuss their views on fashion and how their different approaches helped define their designs. For instance, in WaistUp/WaistDown Schiaparelli uses decorative details in her jackets in response to the attention given to the upper carriage (Waist Up) in restaurants in the 1930s. Prada focuses on the modern and feminine side (Waist down) in her skirts to bring out the playful. Miuccia plays herself and an actress plays Schiaparelli and the exchange explores their ideas and concepts of fashion. The exhibition is set up to engage us in this exchange while showing us the connectedness between their fashions and personal philosophies.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrates the achievements of Elsa Schiaparelli (1890- 1973) and Miuccia Prada (1949). Schiaparelli was closely associated with the Surrealist art movement, created such iconic pieces as the shoe hat, the tears dress, and the insect necklace. Prada took over her family’s Milan base business in 1978 and focuses on fashion that reflects the eclectic nature of Postmodernism. via MetMuseum
As you walk into the gallery, you are greeted by a huge screen; Miuccia Prada is having an imaginary, animated conversation with the late Elsa Schiaparelli. Elsa, the queen of shocking pink and the shoe hat, is played by an Australian actress. The rest of the exhibition is divided into sections/galleries showcasing clothes and accessories that are tied to themes: WaistUp/WaistDown (Schiaparelli jackets/Prada skirts), NeckUp/KneesDown (accessories shown above), Hard Chic, Naïf Chic, Ugly Chic, Exotic Body, Classical Body, and the Surreal Body. I have added photos I took that represent each section below and I will include my observations under each section. Also, I’ve added snippets of their conversations and video to help us understand the perspective each designer brought to her body of work.
“Well, the men, they respect the strong woman, but they don’t usually love them.” Elsa Schiaparelli
“But women mainly need to have the power stuff… not the power, the will, the consciousness of themselves.” Miuccia Prada
The gallery was crowded when we arrived and it took some time to move from one section to another. This was mainly because some of the hardcore Schiaparelli/Prada devotees, some dressed accordingly, insisted on reading every plaque and every write up… slowly. I had to move on and return twice to see the first three sections (WaistUp/WaistDown (Schiaparelli jackets/Prada skirts), NeckUp/KneesDown (accessories shown above), Hard Chic) and get some photos. Hard Chic shows the influence of menswear and uniforms to create an aesthetic that denies the feminine.
“Fashion should allow us to taste the joys of flight. … We shouldn’t be afraid of age but wear our clothes with youth and innocence.” Elsa Schiaparelli
“Not real innocence, but innocence as a choice … And I think that when you get older, you can really be wild.” Miuccia Prada
Naïf Chic | A Bazmark Production. Directed by Baz Luhrmann.
I liked the Naif Chic section because its purpose is the subversion of expectations society has of age appropriate dressing. The dresses were girlish and made with African prints, playful patterns, and styles that remain fresh and breezy. What struck me throughout the exhibit was the unusual masks the mannequins were wearing. They were as varied as the exhibit and there was no mention of their overall impact.
“I remember my mother used to say to my sister that she was beautiful and I was ugly…” Elsa Schiaparelli
“All my life is working against the cliché of beauty… And the necessity and obligation of being sexy, being beautiful.” Miuccia Prada
Ugly Chic | A Bazmark Production. Directed by Baz Luhrmann.
There wasn’t anything ugly about this section other than the odd color schemes and combinations. There was a preponderance of Prada designs here and I noticed that people didn’t linger much in this section which represents how “women subvert ideals of beauty and glamor by playing with good and bad taste through color, prints, and textiles.” I’ll still take that long jacket/coat if you pay for it.