By Caroline Melly
Open now through mid-August, Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, at The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is a gorgeous exhibit that compares and contrast the work of two renowned female designers, Miuccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli. Coming from similar old Italian families, Schiaparelli and Prada are designers who each showed early signs of thinking out of the box and their careers have flourished in separate generations, nearly half a century apart.
Over the course of fashion history, style, values, and the status of women has changed hugely, from the confining bones of a corset in the 1800s to the acceptance of trousers for women. (We can all thank Nan Kempner for a push forward on this – she was at a New York restaurant wearing trousers for a dinner, and the manager told her she was not allowed in as a result. This great lady just took them off and wore her shirt as a dress!) Schiaparelli and Prada’s work emphasizes on feminizing the female figure, as well as empowering the mind and body through their designs.
In the early 1930s (the days of café society) Schiaparelli designed for a woman who needed to look her best primarily seated in a social setting. There was no demand to focus on the lower half of the body, for it was often hidden under the dining table. As a result, Schiaparelli designed jackets that are beautifully embroidered with stunning detailed. Prada, a powerful and passionate woman, focuses often on skirts, featuring modern, feminine design through the striking detail on each of her skirts.
My favorite room of the exhibit was the feature “Neck Up/ Knees Down”, the accessory display part of “Waist Up/ Waist Down”. Schiaparelli’s elaborate hats as well as Prada’s beautifully crafted and designed shoes were displayed next to each other. I instantly envisioned myself on rainy day on the streets of Manhattan in Schiaparelli’s geometric clear cape, or an upscale vintage car show where I will slip on Prada’s light blue T-Bird inspired wedged shoe. The repeated focus on one part of the body by each designer clearly illustrated the intellectual connection between the two designers.
The Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibit gives light to the notion that in the fashion world the past is often represented by the present. The Costume Institute Gala celebrating the exhibit was held three days prior to the opening of the show. Chaired by Anna Wintour and interestingly, Jeff Bezos of Amazon (they are trying to break into the higher end fashion market), it was a night filled with A-list celebrities and fashion icons. English actress Carey Mulligan arrived wearing a futuristic, custom-made, Prada dress. Constructed out of silver and gold fish scales, this statement halter dress was Prada at her best: witty, ingenious and beautiful. (Look closely at Anna’s dress – that is a lobster wrapping itself around her – hilarious and fabulous!)