Impossible Conversations

>> I never seem to be able to make it to the Met Museum in New York to catch their annual fashion exhibition biggie as it is normally timed in between fashion weeks.  I very nearly spanked a ton of air miles on a ticket just to see the McQueen exhibition last year but then decided that mother Lau might want to make it to the USA one day, so I'd better save them up for a rainy day.  A preview event of the upcoming Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibition has wetted the appetite and may just be the primary excuse for a random trip to NY come May.  The reasoning for pitting Miuccia Prada against Elsa Schiaparelli was fairly logical – both are female, Italian and both questioned the notions of good taste in their time.  What stumped me was how the exhibition would be presented and how the two designers' work would interact with each other.  That question was duly answered at the preview as Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton, the curators at The Costume Institute thoroughly explained the outline of the exhibition alongside a few working examples of Prada and Schiaparelli pieces.  

The parallels between the work were actually far more literal than I thought they'd be.  A baroque swirl on a 1937 Schiaparelli jacket matched up with another more recognisable bit of baroque on a Prada S/S 11 dress. The use of art nouveau patterns in Prada's S/S 08 looking uncannily like Schiaparelli's 1937-8 ensemble.  What's more interesting is that it's unlikely that Miuccia ever took conscious and direct influence from Schiaparelli's work.  The seven thematic themes will include Hard Chic, Ugly Chic, Naif Chic, The Classical Body, The Exotic Body and The Surreal Body.  The mere fact that an exhibition includes a section entitled Ugly Chic is worth the plane ticket for me to go and take a peek and I'm glad that the curators have addressed the bravery of both designers to question sanctioned chicness.  Koda recounted a little anecdote about Schiaparelli admonishing someone for making fun of her mismatched shoes by saying "You wouldn't know chic if it hit you on the head!"  The exhibition will also explore the distinct differences between the two women in the theme "Waist Up/Waist Down" with Schiaparelli gravitating towards ostentatious jackets and Prada maintaining a preference for skirts.  This is quite evident in these paired up examples here that the Met provided.  Whilst there are uniting features in these pairings, it's also clear that the two designers' aesthetic and process poles apart.

What's more intriguing will be the videos directed by Baz Luhrmann where simulated conversations between Schiaparelli and Prada take place.  The situation is of course fictitious but the words will be taken from Schiaparelli's biography and interviews that Prada has done.  I can't quite visualise this part of this namesake part of the exhibition so there's really only one way of finding out how this dead and alive convo is constructed.  See you in the inevitable ticket queue! 

Elsa Schiaparelli, Harper's Bazaar, Feb 1935 by Andre Durst // Prada, Autumn/Winter 2002-3 by David Sims

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Elsa Schiaparelli Evening Jacket, Winter 1938-0 // Prada, Autumn/Winter 2004-5

Diana Vreeland in Elsa Schiaparelli, Harper's Bazaar, April 1937 by Louise Dahl-Wolfe // Prada, Spring/Summer 2005 by Toby McFarlan Pond

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Elsa Schiaparelli Suit, Autumn 1938 // Prada Ensemble, Autumn/Winter 1999-2000

Elsa Schiaparelli, Vogue, September 1938 by Horst // Prada, Spring/Summer 1999

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Elsa Schiaparelli Jacket, Summer 1937 // Prada, Spring/Summer 2011

Elsa Schiaparelli, Vogue Paris, February 1927 by George Hoyningen-Huene // Prada Autumn/Winter 1996-7

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Elsa Schiaparelli Evening Ensemble, 1939 // Prada Dress, Spring/Summer 2004

Elsa Schiaparelli in Elsa Schiaparelli, Autumn 1931 by Man Ray // Prada, Autumn/Winter 2004-5 by Toby McFarlan Pond

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Elsa Schiaparelli Evening Ensemble, 1937-8 // Prada, Spring/Summer 2008

17 Replies to “Impossible Conversations”

  1. Really interesting pics. My dad just let me have his copy of National Geographic photography: 1990, and a lot of the photos give me the same sort of inspiration as these ones do.xo

  2. “What’s more interesting is that it’s unlikely that Miuccia ever took conscious and direct influence from Schiaparelli’s work.”
    What is the basis for this statement? At face value the contrary seems true; why should an Italian woman designer, interested in subverting the accepted good taste, not have been interested in researching such a relevant predecessor? The sentence reads as if you are merely stating an accepted fact, but I’d love to hear what it is based on. Just genuine interest here, I’m not trying to argue! 🙂

  3. Well obviously it’s hard to track every trail of every collection Miuccia has done but the sentence is based on a paraphrased interview statement from Miuccia that was then given at the press conference event in Milan. She basically says that on a conscious level, she never really looked at Schiaparelli’s work and I’m rather inclined to believe her just because following her collections, her themes are often a bit harder to grasp and don’t revolve around very obviously historic inspiration. It’s often a word like “prettiness”, “a woman’s passion”, “from business to beach”… it’s always a lonesome phrase and then we the journalists draw out our own references.
    It’s difficult of course to completely verify this. You could say that Miuccia herself wasn’t consciously inspired by Schiaparelli’s work but what about her vast design team who could have looked at images of Schiaparelli’s work and had them up on moodboards. This is something I can’t ascertain. So I’m going to go with what they paraphrased and what Miuccia herself said without knowing the real facts.

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