Date: May 10–August 19, 2012.
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Impossible Conversations is a delightfully witty demonstration of the similarities between designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada. Aside from their Italian heritage, both women share a direct defiance for conceptual norms of beauty, glamour and femininity, thus establishing themselves as fashion pioneers. (Elsa Schiaparelli designed from 1927-1954 and Miuccia Prada from 1978 to present day.)
Video props throughout the exhibit projected private conversations between actress Judy Davis (playing the role of Elsa Schiaparelli) and Miuccia Prada (as herself). They discussed past experiences that led them into fashion and their role as designers.
Waist Up/Waist Down
In Elsa Schiaparelli’s time, Café Society was prominent; social settings congregated around the seats of restaurants, which created a demand for fashion from the waist-up, so Schiaparelli focused her creativity on embroidered jackets.
The Waist-Down approach was developed entirely around Prada’s preference. More comfortable with the idea of fashion from the waist down, she immersed herself into the craft of embroidered skirts.
Neck Up/Knees Down
Continuing with the theme of Waist Up/Waist Down, Schiaparelli created some of the most compelling hats and jewelry, one hat in particular was her famous shoe-hat, while Prada rendered much success for her amazing shoe creations, most notably a Cadillac shoe.
Both designers played with masculine elements, developing modified menswear for women. In Miuccia Prada’s own words, “I tried to make the man more human and the woman more powerful.”
Within the sphere of creative process, Prada and Schiaparelli challenged the idea of playfulness in children’s clothes and devised a way to add a mature spin for adult women. Schiaparelli incorporated butterflies and horse prints, while Prada used gardens, fairies and banana prints. Both designers shared images of a circus carnival theme.
(Dialog between Prada and Schiaparelli)
PRADA: “We can’t be imprisoned by fashion; that is the worst thing that can happen to a woman.”
SCHIAPARELLI: “We shouldn’t be afraid of age, but wear our clothes with youth and innocence.”
PRADA: “Not real innocence, but as a choice; innocence as a choice.”
SCHIAPARELLI: “Yes, women shouldn’t be frightened of being conspicuous.”
Both designers redefined our perception of aesthetics, modernizing unappealing patterns, colors and fabrics, combining contradictions and altering them to the point of complete satisfaction, as Schiaparelli did with sweaters with patterns, and Prada with tweed and 70’s themed prints.
(Dialog between Prada and Schiaparelli)
PRADA: “A possible beauty means something you can wear everywhere that is not ridiculous, that makes sense with the complication.”
SCHIAPARELLI: “We must refuse the definition of glamor without ever being any less glamorous.”
PRADA: “To defy classic beauty but not compromise style, refuse sexy as definition of beauty… Fashion is democratic; accessible to everyone who wears it and relates to it.”
Both designers exhibit undisputed culture. Schiaparelli was very direct in her approach to regional style, while Prada enjoyed playing with subtle elements.
In a video dialog between Schiaparelli and Prada, Schiaparelli tells Prada how she used bark, cellophane, glass and traveled around the world to generate her ideas, but Prada informs her how times have changed and everything has already been done, so she just modernizes exotic beauty.
The Classical Body
Prada and Schiaparelli shared a common love for the ancient past. Of course, Schiaparelli took a more literal stance on her design options, paying homage to the Greek goddess in a classical white dress and using empire lines in her evening-wear, while Prada worked to modernize and even sexify the use of antiquity, for her it was merely a basis for inspiration.
The Surreal Body
In Schiaparelli’s era, the mere act of collaborating with artists to create fashionable garments was not only ingeniously innovative, but in itself an art-form. Schiaparelli incorporated materials such as monkey fur and a lobster printed skirt.
Living in a contemporary world, Prada worked independently from artists; she instead chose to extract art from an observational stand-point and deposit them into her collection. Prada made use of elements in nature, the mixing of fur, plastic fringe and feathers, and a scale dress for Fall 2011.
My Final Thoughts:
In my observation of these two designers, Schiaparelli exemplifies Old Hollywood, while Prada personifies modern elegance.
In conclusion, both women overcame the obstacles of their time. For Schiaparelli, it was her impulsiveness and infinite imagination that transposed her from a troubled child, to a renowned designer. Prada faced her own personal demons, hiding in the theater as a mime and facing attacks for overtaking the family business of luxury goods until she made it to the frontier of fashion.
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