“Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations”, exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
On View May 10–August 19, 2012
The Met’s Spring 2012 Costume Institute exhibition, Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, explores the striking affinities between Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada, two Italian designers from different eras. Inspired by Miguel Covarrubias’s “Impossible Interviews” for Vanity Fair in the 1930s, the exhibition features orchestrated conversations between these iconic women to suggest new readings of their most innovative work. Iconic ensembles are presented with videos of simulated conversations between Schiaparelli and Prada directed by Baz Luhrmann, focusing on how both women explore similar themes in their work through very different approaches.
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.”
Schiaparelli, who worked in Paris from the 1920s until her house closed in 1954, was closely associated with the Surrealist movement and created such iconic pieces as the “Tear” dress, the “Shoe” hat, and the “Bug” necklace. Prada, who holds a degree in political science, took over her family’s Milan-based business in 1978, and focuses on fashion that reflects the eclectic nature of Postmodernism.
“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, while showing Prada’s below-the-waist focus as a symbolic expression of modernity and femininity. An accessories subsection 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 color, prints, and textiles.
“Hard Chic” explores 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” explores the influence of Eastern cultures through fabrics such as lamé, and silhouettes such as saris and sarongs.
“The Surreal Body,” in the final gallery, illustrates 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.
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