At the Met: Schiaperelli & Prada’s Impossible Conversations

Somebody had fun curating the Met’s Spring 2012 Costume Institute Exhibition, “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations” as the dialogue between the two Italian designers from different eras is meant to play off each other’s striking similarities, despite their styles.

“If I have done anything, it is to make ugly appealing,” Prada said. “In fact, most of my work is concerned with destroying or at least deconstructing conventional ideas of beauty of the generic appeal of the beautiful, glamorous, bourgeois woman. Fashion fosters cliches of beauty but I want to tear them apart.”

The exhibit, showcasing 100 designs and 40 accessories created by Elsa Schiaparelli from the late 1920s to the early 1950s and Miuccia Prada from the late 1980s to the present, is inspired by Miguel Covarrubias’ “Impossible Interviews” for Vanity Fair in the 1930s. It features ongoing simulated conversations between these two women – Prada as herself and Schiaperelli played by actress Judy Davis. The video is directed by Baz Luhrmann.

And while there is no discussion on whether Prada was inspired by Schiaparelli, the affinities are noticeable. From color, to pattern, to style, to attitude, they undeniably play off each other and Harold Koda, Curator in Charge, and Andrew Bolton, Curator, both of the Met’s Costume Institute, seemed to know exactly what to place together to give viewers a taste of their sway.

You really gotta get up close to see the full effect.

“Ninety percent of women are afraid of being conspicuous and of what people will say,” Schiaperelli said. “So they buy a gray suit. They should dare to be different. Although I am very shy, I have never been shy of appearing in public in the most fantastic and personal get up.”

Elsa Schiaparelli: “Dress designing to me is not a profession, but an art.”

Miuccia Prada: “I never wanted to be an artist. I’ve never wanted to be called an artist. The term itself seems old-fashioned. And it’s too confining. What I love about fashion is its accessibility and its democracy. Everyone wears it and everyone relates to it.”

Signature objects by both designers are arranged in seven themed galleries: “Waist Up/Waist Down,” (Prada focused on the waist and knees down, while Schiaperelli was smitten with the neck and waist up), “Ugly Chic,” “Hard Chic,” “Naïf Chic,” “The Classical Body,” “The Exotic Body,” and “The Surreal Body.”

The exhibition is showing until Aug. 19 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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