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The Met’s Spring 2012 Costume Institute exhibition, “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations.” Meant to portray the correlations between the two iconic designers — who lived in entirely different eras but explored similar themes in their work — the show will focus on seven specific subjects that both women addressed in their clothing collections. Each subject will be the subject of a fictional “conversation” between the two women, as imagined (and simulated through cinematographic hoodoo) by film director Baz Luhrmann.

Left: George Hoyningen-Huené (Russian, 1900–1968), Portrait of Elsa Schiaparelli, 1932. Hoyningen-Huené/Vogue/Condé Nast Archive. Copyright © Condé Nast.

Right: Guido Harari (Italian, born Cairo, 1952), Portrait of Miuccia Prada, 1999. Guido Harari/Contrasto/Redux.

According to a recent press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, these  are the aforementioned subjects:

 “Waist Up/Waist Down” will look at Schiaparelli’s use of decorative detailing as a response to restaurant dressing in the heyday of 1930s café society, 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” will showcase Schiaparelli’s hats and Prada’s footwear.

 “Waist Up/Waist Down”

 “Waist Up/Waist Down”

 “Ugly Chic” will reveal how both women subvert ideals of beauty and glamour by playing with good and bad taste through color, prints, and textiles.

 “Naïf Chic” will focus on Schiaparelli and Prada’s adoption of a girlish sensibility to subvert expectations of age-appropriate dressing.

 “The Classical Body,” which also incorporates “The Pagan Body,” explores the designers’ engagement with antiquity through the gaze of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

 “The Exotic Body” will explore the influence of Eastern cultures through fabrics such as lamé, and silhouettes such as saris and sarongs.

 “The Surreal Body” in the final gallery will illustrate how both women affect contemporary images of the female body through Surrealistic practices such as displacement, playing with scale, and blurring the boundaries between reality and illusion as well as the natural and the artificial.

 “The Surreal Body”

The exhibition will showcase approximately ninety designs and thirty accessories by Schiaparelli (1890–1973) from the late 1920s to the early 1950s and by Prada from the late 1980s to the present. Drawn from The Costume Institute’s collection and the Prada Archive, as well as other institutions and private collections, signature objects by both designers will be arranged in seven themed galleries: “Waist Up/Waist Down,” “Ugly Chic,” “Hard Chic,” “Naïf Chic,” “The Classical Body,” “The Exotic Body,” and “The Surreal Body.”

Schiaparelli, who worked in Paris from the 1920s until her house closed in 1954, was closely associated with the Surrealist movement and created such iconic pieces as the “Tear” dress, the “Shoe” hat, and the “Bug” necklace. Prada, who holds a degree in political science, took over her family’s Milan-based business in 1978, and focuses on fashion that reflects the eclectic nature of Postmodernism.

While the Metropolitan Museum of Art prepares for the follow-up to the record breaking Alexander McQueen tribute exhibition Savage Beauty in New York, fashion insiders at Milan Fashion Week have been treated to a preview of the gallery’s upcoming Prada/Schiaparelli exhibition.

The exhibition will open with the fashion industry’s version of  The Oscars – The Costume Institute Gala’s Met Ball – taking place on May 7th, 2012.

The catalogue also offers images of Diana Vreeland and Schiaparelli herself by the likes of Man Ray, André Durst, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, and Horst—which makes the book just as covetable as a ticket to the exhibition. Start lining up now!

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