The Costume Institute’s latest exhibition is built around a conceit that is, quite literally, impossible. But with a little bit of movie magic from Baz Luhrmann, the Met Museum has created a new conversation between the legendary Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada for the exhibition Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations.
After last year’s blockbuster Alexander McQueen monograph, this year’s selection was a little less focused. The museum had received a collection of pieces by Schiaparelli, but the “Schiap” had recently gotten the solo show treatment at another museum. So in the search for an adequate partner, the museum decided on another Italian iconoclast, Miuccia Prada, for its conceptual pas de deux.
Set around eight larger-than-life videos of the two icons talking fashion over an ornate dining table (Schiaparelli, who died in 1973, is played by a bubbly Judy Davis; curator Andrew Bolton compares it to a feminist version of the 1981 film My Dinner with Andre), the exhibition compares and contrasts the designers and their views on fashion. Some connections are superficial, like Schiaparelli’s focus on the upper body (all the better to be admired in seated café society) vs. Prada’s intellectual attachment to the earthier lower body, most of all in her famous skirts and shoes. Richly lit mannequins encased in glass vitrines showcase highlights from Prada’s career against photographs— some digitally edited to add a surrealist touch of blinking eyes—of similar motifs from Schiaparelli’s archives.
Rumors have swirled since the show’s inception that Prada herself hasn’t been too excited about the exhibition’s dual focus, and whether or not it’s true, Prada definitely has the last word. In the exhibition’s final room, she sharply counters the late Schiaparelli’s insistence that designers are artists.
"So now we can agree that designers are artists?"
"No Schiap, never."
Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations runs from May 10–August 19, 2012 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Written by Heather Corcoran