Last year, my schedule didn’t allow me to make it to the Alexander McQueen exhibit, so this week, when I found myself with some unexpected free time while on a business trip, I snagged a cab and took a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Exhibit, “Schaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations”
How to describe an exhibition that is so beautifully curated that it shows, in brilliant compare/contrast, the inspiration, juxtaposition and evolution of fashion from the 1920s of Schap’s café society to the modern day Milan of Miuccia Prada? I have to admit, I was not expecting much when I walked in. I love Schiaparelli, but only in the context of cool stuff from a bygone age. And I got a bad taste in my mouth about Prada back in the 90s when I spent a small fortune on a Prada black nylon bag (the must-have bag of the day), only to see every Tammy, Deena and Harriet walking around with cheap knockoffs of it three months later.
But this exhibit changed my opinion. Oh yes, there is some silliness in the form of videos of “Elsa Schiaparelli” talking about fashion and design with Miuccia Prada. But beyond that (And can I tell you? People – there is real, historically significant fashion in the vitrines next to you. Stop staring at the f*cking video screens! But I digress), this show is positively jaw-dropping. My favorite part was titled “Waist Up/Waist Down”. I never really paid attention before this, but Schiaparelli put huge design focus on jackets, since her clients were ladies who lunched, and jackets with interesting embellishments were more likely to be photographed.
Prada, on the other hand, gives great attention to skirts. According to the show, she loves skirts because they move more and provide interesting visuals. (As an aside, yeah, that’s true on the runway. But have you ever seen what a skirt looks like after a day of sitting at an office desk? But I digress.) There were amazing side-by sides. The curators of this exhibit, Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda, did an astounding job of finding garments that so beautifully complemented each other. My absolute favorite pairing was a jacket that had palm motifs embroidered on it (Lesage) next to a beautiful printed skirt.
There are other galleries: Ugly Chic, Hard Chic, Naïf Chic, The Exotic Body and The Classical Body, which I found fascinating, since I’ve never seen such demure and wearable pieces in the books I have on Schiaparelli. Then there was the final set of vitrines, called The Surreal Body. This was, as you might expect, where you saw some of the most “out there” looks. There was a cool Prada “Lobster” dress that was covered in paillettes that evoke the crustacean. The weirdest, and ickiest, was a dress that Schiap designed with Salvador Dali (a frequent collaborator). Called the Tears Dress, it was gorgeous, until you realized what it was about. It was a rayon and silk gown, mostly white that had slashes and appliquéd doodads in pink. I happened to be there when a docent was leading a group through. She explained that the dress was supposed to look like skin that had been flayed to reveal the underlying tissue. Ooookay. Thanks, I’m not hungry now.
There were some other classic pieces from Schiaparelli – the embroidered Apollo cape, the Jean Cocteau kiss, the Circus horses and trapeze jacket, the shoe hat. And equally beautiful, though not-yet-iconic pieces from Prada.
So if you are in New York, by all means, get thee to this exhibit! It’s wonderful, and it’s at the Met through August 19, 2012.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10028-0198