"Fashion is art." ~ Elsa Schiaparelli
"Fashion is not art. Fashion designers make clothes and they have to sell them. We have less creative freedom than artists.” ~ Miuccia Prada
Ciao, it’s Erika from small shop! Last week I had the pleasure of experiencing the Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibit at The Met. With fictionalized conversations filmed by Baz Luhrmann between actress Judy Davis as Schiaparelli (1890-1973) and Miuccia Prada herself, you are lured into a multimedia world that presents its conclusions by comparing and contrasting the two designing women’s works. High concepts are explored and applied, as 120 pieces are grouped into generalized themes: Waist Up/Waist Down, Neck Up/Knees Down, Ugly Chic, Hard Chic, Naïf Chic, The Classical Body, The Exotic Body, and The Surreal Body.
Waist Up/Waist Down (Prada pieces "waist down", Schiaparelli "waist up")
Neck Up/Knees Down (Schiaparelli "neck up", Prada "knees down")
While both women are Italian-born, Elsa Schiaparelli worked in Paris in the 1920’s until her fashion house closed its doors in 1954. She is best known for her use of "shocking pink" (shocking at the time), her "shoe hat", and her collaboration with Dadaists and Surrealists like Salvador Dalí.
The Classical Body (Prada pieces at the back, Schiaparelli at the forefront)
The Exotic Body (Prada pieces at the back, Schiaparelli at the forefront)
Hard Chic (Prada pieces on the left, Schiaparelli on the right)
Naïf Chic (Two Schiaparelli pieces on the left, four Prada pieces on the right)
The Surreal Body (Prada pieces at the forefront, Schiaparelli pieces shown on screens)
Initially I intended on reporting back the similarities between the two designers — how their work challenges convention, incorporates surrealist imagery, breaks down clichés of fashion. As I investigated further, it’s become clear to me that the exhibit is somewhat controversial in that, all is not what it seems. If you were to simply walk through you might be struck by the apparent influence that Schiaparelli had on Prada. Not only are quotes juxtaposed against each other that are surprisingly similar, but pieces from each designer are encased together and paired up, for comparison.
My favorite gallery was the mirrored "The Surreal Body" (above) where a single focus was highlighted in each case. Although the display was mesmerizing (particularly the eerily moving pictures), I found that the similarities distracted from the beauty and ingenuity of each piece.
It’s interesting to note that Miuccia Prada may have agreed, as she voiced that she was not thrilled with The Met’s final curation. And one can see why: when you pair a jacket with lips by Schiaparelli next to a skirt with lips by Prada, it would seem that the latter was clearly influenced by the former. (Prada states she was inspired by YSL…who happened to be inspired by Schiaparelli.)
But in many ways, Prada is the anti-designer, and at every turn, attempts to convey her disdain for beauty, her wish to make the ugly appealing, her opposition to the idea that fashion is art. In my humble opinion, Prada starts with the groundwork that Schiaparelli laid down decades ago and takes it to the next level, which is really much more difficult: to be surprising and innovative when it seems it’s all been done before.
I highly recommend the exhibit — go and draw your own conclusions!