Last month I went to the opening of Prada and Schiaparelli: Impossible Conversions, the latest exhibit for The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum, on behalf of GARAGE Magazine. I wanted to write a piece that actually analyzed not only the two women, but how the exhibit was set up, as I felt much of the buzz surrounding the exhibit was simply announcements for its opening. I wrote a piece for GARAGE Magazine called Prada and Schiaparelli: The Yin Yang Effect.
While Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) and Miuccia Prada (1949-present) span different time periods, there are many similarities in their nonconformist takes on beauty, that the exhibit seeks to highlight. The “impossible conversations” refer to a series of videos throughout the exhibit, which edit together imagined conversations between the two influential designers.
I don’t think one should go in looking at the exhibit as “Prada vs. Schiaparelli.” Although in some cases you’ll see their garments are extraordinarily similar, the designers often had profoundly different intentions in making their work, that it becomes hard to compare the two with the same lens. Schiaparelli believed that collections should be thematic, while Prada says her collections are a reflection of her mood at the time and nothing more. At first glance, it was hard to discern which was designed by whom, as their clothes truly supersede time. In 1938, Schiaparelli made a black rayon evening jacket with plastic insects on the collar, and buttons made to look like leaves. In the Met gallery it was hung above a green twill embroidered skirt made by Prada in the 1999-2000 season, decorated with insects and a plastic leaf trim, though Prada claims that she took no inspiration from Schiaparelli. Personally, I find it incredible that they even thought to make insects wearable in the first place.
I first thought that the trompe de l’oeil sweater was designed by Prada, or at least made in the 1960’s. It seems so 1960’s school teacher. But upon closer inspection, Schiaparelli made the sweater in 1932! Can you believe it? She was so ahead of her times.
Photos aren't technically allowed to be taken in the exhibit, so I had to be a little sneakyWhen I look at these circus collections it’s especially evident to me that these women are trailblazers. Each in their own way have extremely feminist outlooks on fashion. Their clothes are bold and humorous. These are women who weren’t afraid to create a dress with a giant lobster on it and turn it into something totally not WASPy. Prada has made numerous collections that make fun of trends and fashion. And if you think about Schiaparelli, especially, for her time, to make something like the shoe hat now may seem like another act of avant garde, but for her it was a daring stance against conformity. Which is why, I feel that the viewer shouldn’t just look at one designer versus the other.
A good designer is able to make beautiful clothes, but a great designer is able to make clothes that say something more than just what’s current fashion of our times. A great designer can nuance historical, social, and even political aspects, and it is few designers such as Schiaparelli and Prada that are able to do so.
Read my article for GARAGE Magazine here. The exhibit runs till August 19th 2012.
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