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The Met’s Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, A Review

A few days after The Costume Institute's Met Gala was held in celebration of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's 2012 Costume Institute exhibit Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, I made my way to the museum to see if the exhibit’s fashions stacked up to the glitz and glam of the celebrity red carpet held in its honor.

The first thing to note is that unlike the Alexander McQueen exhibit held before it, this exhibit, which explores the similarities between the two Italian designers, Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada, and imagines a conversation between them as contemporaries at a dinner table (thanks to a Baz Luhrmann-directed film staring Prada as herself and Judy Davis as Schiaparelli), does not require waiting in line for hours to gain admittance.

I breezed in on Friday afternoon and made my way through the galleries, which present the two designer’s work alongside each other so as to elucidate how both women explore similar themes in their work. All the while, the video conversations, for which Prada was interviewed over the course of several months (Davis’ lines were based on Schiaparelli’s autobiography Shocking Life), play in the background.

The exhibition features approximately 90 designs and 30 accessories by Elsa Schiaparelli from the late 1920s to the early 1950s, and by Miuccia Prada from the late 1980s to the present. The pieces are arranged in themed galleries beginning with “Waist Up/Waist Down,” which looks at Schiaparelli’s use of decorative detailing as a response to restaurant dressing in the heyday of 1930s café society (i.e. she focused on the waist up since women's legs were hidden under tables), 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 designers play with good and bad taste through color, prints, and textiles, while “Hard Chic” explores the influence of uniforms and menswear and “Naïf Chic” focuses on Schiaparelli and Prada’s adoption of a girlish sensibility to subvert expectations of age-appropriate dressing. “The Classical Body,” explores how the designers’ were inspired by the late  eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, “The Exotic Body” explores the influence of Eastern cultures and, lastly, “The Surreal Body” illustrates how both women affect contemporary images of the female body through surrealistic practices (think playing with scale).

It’s not the most visually stimulating Costume Insititute exhibit, but the Prada shoes on display alone make it worth a trip. There are also pieces from the Fall 2012 Prada collection in the exhibit, which have not yet hit store, and any Prada fan will find it interesting to see how the designer has been influenced by Schiaparelli, but all the while managed to make her designs distinctly her own and reflective of her time.

Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations runs through August 19, 2012.

Images: Metropolitan Museum of Art

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