I recently went to the Metropolitan Museum’s latest Costume Institute installation entitled, Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations. Unlike last year’s Alexander McQueen exhibit, I walked out of the three dark exhibit rooms wondering what I just saw. There was a large video which played on the walls featuring a conversation between fashion designer, Elsa Schiaparelli (played by Judy Davis) and fashion designer, Miuccia Prada (as herself) at either end of a long (a visual stretch) dinner table. Their conversation tells the viewer why these women now find themselves in a costume exhibit mashup. Both Italians, they have had a huge influence on the way women dress (Schiaparelli in the ’30’s and Prada in the late ’80’s through now); both approach fashion a bit subversively, challenging traditional concepts of beauty and what’s classic; and neither one aspired early on to be a fashion designer. But, for all the commonality, there appears to be equal parts disparity. Apparently, according to the curator of the exhibit, Andrew Bolton, Miuccia Prada struggled with the exhibit’s concept. In an interview with New York Magazine, Bolton talks about getting Prada on board, “It’s been really interesting. I think, initially, Miuccia was rather baffled by the pairing of Schiaparelli and herself, because she really doesn’t look to Schiaparelli for inspiration or influence. But over the course of putting the exhibition together, she’s begun to see more similarities, not particularly in their fashion but in terms of how they approach fashion, which is on a very conceptual level”.
Which would explain why the “movie” is of much more interest than the actual pairing of the two designers’ clothes. I don’t mean their clothes are not interesting. Far from it. Discovering Schiaparelli’s designs was a treat. And I am a huge Prada fan so I loved the opportunity to review her pieces from collections past. In fact, I was able to finally carbon-date a pair of velvet platform shoes I own because I recognized a similar pair from her 1995 Spring Collection. They are still my favorite shoes, even though they are definitely showing their age — now I know why. I also remember being alone with my conscience one afternoon in 1992 in a Barney’s dressing room, trying on a pair of black Prada pants from one of her earliest collections (she started her line in 1988). The sales woman sealed the deal by assuring me I would have them forever. I tried to do the math, dividing the price tag by forever and convinced myself this was the deal of the century. And it actually sort of was… I still wear (and love) these pants!
Miuccia’s work (little does she know, we are on a first name basis) could totally have stood on its own.. an exhibit by itself. Then it wouldn’t have felt forced, but rather a real tribute to the fashion tour de force she is.