I Attended Met Designer Costume Exhibit Prada & Schiaparelli

By Lori Peters

NYC summer weekends are rather dead.  There is a mass exodus from Manhattan’s scorching, muggy,one hundred degrees of hot concrete  to the beaches in the Hamptons, Long Island or the Jersey shore.

Yesterday, I had a $400 Keratin, straightening treatment put in my hair, because I could no longer stand the unescapable frizz from the humidity.  See myhairtalking.com.  I was told by my hair stylist for the next four days I had  to avoid sweating and getting my hair wet.  Thus, I stayed in town.

I indulged my cultural life by heading for the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Prada costume exhibit.   I was mesmerized by this fascinating, hypothetical diatribe between two Italian designers from different decades.


Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada’s

Impossible Conversations at

the Metropolitan 

Museum’Costume Institute

May 10–August 19, 2012

Exhibition location: Special exhibition galleries, first floor

The spring 2012 exhibition organized by The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art is Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations.  The exhibition, on view from May 10 through August 19, 2012 (preceded on May 7 by The Costume Institute Gala Benefit), explores the striking affinities between these two Italian designers from different eras.  Inspired by Miguel Covarrubias’s satirical “Impossible Interviews” for Vanity Fair in the 1930s, curators Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton orchestrate conversations between these iconic women to suggest new readings of the designers’ most innovative work.

The exhibition is made possible by Amazon.

Additional support is provided by Condé Nast.

“Given the role Surrealism and other art movements play in the designs of both Schiaparelli and Prada, it seems only fitting that their inventive creations be explored here at the Met,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  “Schiaparelli’s collaborations with Dalí and Cocteau as well as Prada’s Fondazione Prada push art and fashion ever closer, in a direct, synergistic, and culturally redefining relationship.”


Portrait of Elsa Schiaparelli Portrait of Elsa Schiaparelli
George Hoyningen-Huené (Russian, 1900–1968)
Portrait of Elsa Schiaparelli, 1932
Courtesy of Hoyningen-Huené/Vogue
© Condé Nast
Guido Harari (Italian, born Cairo, 1952)
Portrait of Miuccia Prada, 1999
Courtesy of Guido Harari/Contrasto/Redux

Waist Up/Waist Down

Wallis Simpson in Elsa Schiaparelli Miuccia Prada dress
Wallis Simpson in Elsa Schiaparelli, Vogue,
June 1, 1937
Photograph by Cecil Beaton,
Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s
Miuccia Prada, spring/summer 2011
Photograph © David Sims
Diana Vreeland in Elsa Schiaparelli Miuccia Prada dress
Diana Vreeland in Elsa Schiaparelli, Harper’s Bazaar, April 1937
Photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe
Louise Dahl-Wolfe Archive / © 2012 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents
Miuccia Prada, spring/summer 2005
Photograph © Toby McFarlan Pond
Elsa Schiaparelli ensemble Miuccia Prada dress
Elsa Schiaparelli, Vogue, September 15, 1938
Photograph by Horst
Horst / Vogue; © Condé Nast
Miuccia Prada, spring/summer 1999
Photograph © Toby McFarlan Pond

Ugly Chic

Elsa Schiaparelli dress Miuccia Prada dress
Elsa Schiaparelli, Vogue Paris, February 1927
Photograph by George Hoyningen-Huené
© R.J. Horst
Miuccia Prada, autumn/winter 1996–97
Photograph © Toby McFarlan Pond

Hard Chic

Elsa Schiaparelli for Vogue
Elsa Schiaparelli, Vogue, September 15, 1938
Photograph by Regina Relang
Miuccia Prada, autumn/winter 2004–5
Photograph © Toby McFarlan Pond

Naïf Chic

Elsa Schiaparelli ensemble Miuccia Prada ensemble
Elsa Schiaparelli, Vogue Paris, June 1949
Photograph by Rutledge
Rutledge @ Vogue Paris
Miuccia Prada, spring/summer 2006
Photograph © Toby McFarlan Pond

The Classical Body

Elsa Schiaparelli dress Miuccia Prada dress
Elsa Schiaparelli in Elsa Schiaparelli, autumn
Photograph by Man Ray
© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Miuccia Prada, autumn/winter 2004–5
Photograph © Toby McFarlan Pond

The Exotic Body

Elsa Schiaparelli dress Miuccia Prada dress
Elsa Schiaparelli, Vogue, June 1, 1935
Photograph by Horst
Horst / Vogue; © Condé Nast
Miuccia Prada, spring/summer 2004
Photograph © Toby McFarlan Pond

The Surreal Body

Elsa Schiaparelli dress Miuccia Prada dress
Elsa Schiaparelli, Harper’s Bazaar, February 1935
Photograph by André Durst
Harper’s Bazaar/Hearst Communications, Inc.
Miuccia Prada, autumn/winter 2002–3
Photograph © David Sims
Elsa Schiaparelli dress Miuccia Prada dress
Wallis Simpson in Elsa Schiaparelli, British Vogue, July 10, 1935
Photograph by Cecil Beaton
Cecil Beaton / Vogue © The Condé Nast Publications Ltd
Miuccia Prada, spring/summer 2000
Photograph © David Sims
Elsa Schiaparelli ensemble Miuccia Prada ensemble
Elsa Schiaparelli, L’Officiel, October 1937
Photograph by George Saad
Copyright Les Editions Jalou, L’Officiel
Miuccia Prada, spring/summer 2000
Photograph © Toby McFarlan Pond

The exhibition is organized by Harold Koda, Curator in Charge, and Andrew Bolton, Curator, both of the Met’s Costume Institute.  Film director, screenwriter, and producer Baz Luhrmann is the exhibition’s creative consultant, and has created a series of filmed elements for the exhibition. The production design for the films is by Luhrmann’s longtime collaborator, Catherine Martin. The exhibition design is realized by Nathan Crowley, who serves as production designer (he was creative consultant for the Met’s exhibitionsSuperheroes: Fashion and Fantasy and American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity).  All mannequin head treatments and masks are designed by Guido Palau.

The design for the 2012 Costume Institute Gala Benefit is created by Crowley and Raul Avila (who has produced the Benefit décor since 2007) with Luhrmann as creative consultant.

The Exhibition
In the galleries, iconic ensembles by Schiaparelli and Prada are presented alongside short videos of simulated conversations between the two designers directed by Luhrmann, focusing on how the women explore similar themes in their work through very different approaches.

 “Juxtaposing the work of Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada allows us to explore how the past enlightens the present and how the present enlivens the past,” said Koda.

“The connection of the historic to the modern highlights the affinities as well as the variances between two women who constantly subverted contemporary notions of taste, beauty, and glamour,” added Bolton.

The exhibition, in the Metropolitan Museum’s first-floor special exhibition galleries, features approximately 100 designs and 40 accessories by Elsa Schiaparelli (1890–1973) from the late 1920s to the early 1950s, and by Miuccia 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.  Eight short videos created by Luhrmann, in which Prada talks with Schiaparelli, who is played by actress Judy Davis, animate the entry gallery and the seven themed sections of the exhibition and provide the thread that connects the objects.  In the films, “Schiap” and Prada are seated at a dining table in dialogue that has been created using paraphrased excerpts from Schiaparelli’s autobiography, Shocking Life, and Prada’s filmed remarks.  Visitors will have the impression of eavesdropping on a fantastical meeting of two great fashion minds.

The section of the exhibition entitled “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.  “Classical Body” explores the designers’ engagement with antiquity through the gaze of the late-18th and early-19th centuries.  “Exotic Body” touches on the influence of Eastern cultures through fabrics such as lamé, and silhouettes such as saris and sarongs.

“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, natural and artificial.

Schiaparelli, who worked in Paris from the 1920s until her house closed in 1954, was associated closely 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.

The Met’s website includes special, in-depth features on the exhibition:www.metmuseum.org/impossibleconversations.

Follow Met on Facebook.com/MetMuseum and Twitter.com/MetMuseum to join the conversation about the exhibition and gala benefit.  Use #ImpossibleConversations and #MetGala on Twitter.Images