Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada: Impossible Conversations is the title of the exhibition at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, from 10th May to 19th August, that is dedicated to two ladies of fashion who, for different reasons, have made the Made in Italy be appreciated worldwide.
On the one hand Schiaparelli expressed the ‘30s fashion that tended to become art. “Sometimes” she said “I happened to think instead of painting and sculpting, that kind of skills I was pretty good at, creating clothes and costumes. Clothing styling, I am saying fleetingly, is not a profession but an art”.
Schiaparelli, who had changed the way to think of a woman, subdued the dress to the body. Besides creating the silhouettes inspired by the Art Nouveau simplicity, the robe-sacs, the garçonne hairdressings, the low waist, she emphasized the sweater, she launched the first evening dress with a crêpe de chine jacket, she reproduced some of the naïf drawings (the most famous is a big white hand-woven bow that turns into a butterfly – exposed in the exhibition), she used the tromp-l’olœil technique on fabrics, she glorified the jersey skeleton, she proposed the tweed, the evening raincoats, the embroidered sari, the glass dresses, the exaggerated buttons ( in the shape of lips, barley sweets, circus performers…), the clown hats, the shoe – hats, the chop – hats, the fonts, the first Perspex bracelets and earrings.
On the other hand, Prada, the emblem of ‘90s Italian minimalism, has an opened to the cultural contaminations style that has no artistic ambitions today.
The curators, Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda, arranged the exposition in seven themed galleries: “Hard chic”, “Ugly chic”, “Naïf chic”, “The classical body”, “The exotic body”, “The surreal body” and “Waist up/Waist down”. Thanks to this subdivision, they put together different eras, aesthetics, sociologies and anthropologies. But first of all, they bring together two different ways of conceiving fashion. By passing through each section, you can plunge into pictures of Schiaparelli and Prada. Clothes and accessories made up in distant eras. As a result, there is the abolition of every kind of disparity, in a sophisticated game of material and formal mimesis.
“Hard chic” celebrates the black. “Ugly chic” talks about geometrical fabrics. “Naïf chic” is an explosion of colours, embroidery and appliqués. “The classical body” looks into the classics by quoting manipulations and formal compositions. “The exotic body” evokes ethnics. “The surreal body” is inspired to Salvador Dalì. The last section “Waist up / Waist down” talks about the rhythm of the clothes lines.
The exhibition features some conversations between Schiaparelli and Prada (filmed by Baz Luhrmann) which are presented in each room: impossible conversations, as the title says. A literary genre adopted by US magazines such as “Vanity Fair” and “Vogue” in the early twentieth century.
Listening to this double interview brings you to another section, which we may call “Paradise chic”. This is a comparison that suggests affinities and differences by avoiding the documentary intent.
This is an option that sometimes risks diverting the attention from “reading” clothes and accessories. Much assonance comes out of Impossible Conversations. According to Schiaparelli and Prada the clothes must be innovative ensembles, made up of unconventional shapes, shocking colours, amazing appliqués. The goal is to project women to a dream dimension that doesn’t dread hazard and excess. That is the excess André Breton talked about in Nadja: “Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all”.
Translation credit: Chiara Ferrara