Monday, July 2, 2012

Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations

I have been intending to see the latest Costume Institute exhibit at the Met since its opening in early spring but I did not make the trek uptown until this past Sunday. The featured designers of the exhibition are Schiaparelli & Prada. The inspiration for the event was a series of articles from one of my favorite publications: Vanity Fair. The "Impossible Conversations" series first appeared in Vanity Fair in the 1930s and featured imagined and mostly fictional conversations between two famous individuals, many who seemed to have little to no connection to one another. An example of such a conversation was one between Stalin & Schiaparelli, the text of which appeared in the foreground of a picture of a cartoonish Stalin & Schiaparelli floating through the clouds:

    • Stalin: (in response to Schiaparelli's threat to dress Russian women like the other women of the world) Perhaps I better cut your parachute down.
    • Schiaparelli: A hundred other couturiers would replace me.
The exhibit itself features the Impossible Conversation between Mme. Schiaparelli & Ms. Prada in various forms. The first form is in a film, directed by Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge!, The Great Gatsby), in which Miuccia Prada plays herself & the Australian actress Judy Davis plays Elsa Schiaparelli. The second form is through placing actual pieces designed by the women side by side in order to emphasize the similarities & differences in their approach to design. Both women ran (run, in the case of Prada), Italian fashion houses and both have very specific views of fashion & women. Like all people, they agree on some facets of fashion and life and disagree on others. Some of their disagreements are based on the different time periods in which they practiced their craft and others are simple philosophical disconnects. Most of Schiaparelli's side of the conversation is drawn from quotes from her autobiography, Shocking Life

Above: the real Schiaparelli & Prada

Below: Judy Davis as Schiaparelli & Prada as Prada

  • Both Italian
  • Both were discouraged from entering the industry
  • Both have collections based on nature
  • Both have collections based on military & masculine inspiration
  • Both have collections that are child-like (Schiaparelli's butterflies & circus; Prada's monkey & fruit collection & general whimsy)
  • Both like deconstructed beauty
  • Both had surrealist elements (*one intended, one unintended)

Military Inspiration

Prada Banana Print: 
to Prada's surprise, this collection was one of the most commercially successful

Schiaparelli Butterfly Dress

  • Schiaparelli saw fashion as art. 
  • Prada says fashion is not art: art is art & fashion is fashion (and, in Prada's opinion, far more commercial than art).

  • Schiaparelli was inspired by surrealism & worked extensively with Salvador Dali & Jean Cocteau in designing certain collections. 
  • Prada seems to have surrealist elements in many of her clothes (lipstick tubes, mirrors, etc.) but claims these alleged surrealist elements are coincidental, not intentional.

  • Schiaparelli designed for a cafe society so she focused on the waist up in design. The result: her elaborate embroidered jackets & cheeky hats. 
  • Prada focused on the waist down because she designed for the active contemporary woman. Prada also feels that the lower half of the body is where life is: the lower half is how we walk, make love, give birth. The result: flirty skirts with lots of character and movement and heels that are works of art in and of themselves. 
Prada Shoes & Schiaparelli Hats

Prada Lipstick Skirt

Two Designers: Both with Surrealist lips on their designs

Not as breathtaking as last year's McQueen exhibit but a fascinating comparison & contrast nonetheless.

As always, I leave you with one final image:

Elsa Schiaparelli & Salvador Dali

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