First Look: Schiaparelli And Prada at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Two iconic designers: Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada have teamed up together with surprising results.
Monday morning I had the chance to walk through the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute’s newest exhibition: Schiaparelli And Prada: Impossible Conversations. Could a designer whose heyday was between World War I and II be comparable to a designer who is one of today’s strongest? The answer is yes. Both women were strong individuals whose singular vision shaped the way a generation, or in the case of Prada, generations. Even so, Schiaparelli’s innovations—she created culottes, wedge shoes, pom poms on hats, used brightly colored zippers, experimented with prints and revolutionized knitwear. It was her idea to create a fashion show complete with runway and musical accompaniment. Schiaparelli adored hot pink and used it constantly, at one point it was considered to be her color. While we don’t realize it, almost everything we wear has a touch of her influence.
Schiaparelli was really the first designer to collaborate with artists. One of her most famous dresses, the “Lobster Dress,” a white column gown with a bright red lobster painted down the front was a collaboration with Salvador Dali. After the dress was finished, Dali hand painted the crustacean. Then Wallis Simpson wore it and the rest was, as they say, artistic history.
Schiaparelli also collaborated with Jean Cocteau, Alberto Giacometti, Meret Oppenheim and Leonor Fini. Schiaparelli was influenced by and was a fan of Dadaism and Surrealism. She also had a close personal friendship with Marcel Duchamps. Was she attracted to these artists because they pushed the boundaries? Or did they share a common philosophy? Perhaps both.
Miuccia Prada single-handedly took her family’s well established luxury leather goods company and turned it into a worldwide concern whose products include beauty, eye wear and fragrance. She transformed the basic nylon bag into a chic (and expensive) totem or “IT” bag. She’s brought back leggings, pushed and pulled fabrics and aesthetics to (at times) bordering the avant-garde. At the same time, Prada’s designs have been a commercial success. Quite unlike Schiaparelli, who closed her design house in 1954. Some critics felt that she had lost her touch and stayed in retirement until her death in 1973.
The exhibit consists of both designers’ works standing side by side by theme: evening wear, feathers, day wear. etc. When you place a butterfly printed dress from Prada, next to a design from Schiaparelli that is decades old, you see the similarity of thought. This happens time and again as you walk through the various rooms. It’s as if they were twins. It’s eerie to think how the decades separate them, Prada didn’t start designing until the late 70s.
How is the exhibit set up? You first walk into a blackened room while a conversation with Prada is shown against the far wall. As you walk through the exhibit, you can hear snatches of the interview because Prada’s talking head seems to be projected throughout the space.
There’s a gallery which pairs each designer accessories—shoes, jewelry, hats next to each other. As you look at each item, you see a shared aesthetic.
There’s an innovative gallery where mannequins are placed in Lucite boxes. Behind each mannequin is a photograph of the opposite designer’s complementary creation. The area is called, rather aptly, the “Surreal Body Gallery.”
What I really enjoyed where quotes from the designers that were placed here and there throughout the exhibit. One of my favorites was by Schiaparelli. She said, “Dress designing to me is not a profession…it’s an art.”
The designs seem to be dancers, each swaying towards each other in a measured pas de deux. While I really enjoyed the exhibit, there were three items I had wanted to see. One was Schiaparelli’s Tear dress (it is there), the other two were the Lobster dress (I’ve seen it before at the Met and visiting it is like seeing an old friend) and the other was a hat that’s an upside down shoe, aptly called the “Shoe Hat.” Neither the dress nor the hat was there. There was a photo of the hat, but it’s not the same thing. The hat is also seen on the poster of the exhibit.
There’s an old French saying, “”plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” which means, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Within this exhibit we see that yes, designs, ideas and aesthetics while separated by decades and school of thought can be eerily alike. And we also see what design genius looks like. Both of them, Schiaparelli and Prada have never been afraid to take a risk and stay true to themselves.
To find out more about the exhibit or the Museum’s hours, visit their site.
PJ Gach is Senior Editor: Style + Beauty at BettyConfidential.