Monday, July 2, 2012

“Would you know chic if it hit you in the head?”

That's what fashion legend Elsa Schiaparelli (1890–1973) replied to Givenchy when he critiqued her mismatched shoes. Being deeply enamored of all brazen hussies, I was all over the current Met exhibit that compares / contrasts her iconoclastic work with that of modern renegade Miuccia Prada, born in 1949. (As the catalog copy states: "the parallels between the two include their preferences for interesting textiles and prints, eccentric color palettes, and a bold and playful approach to styling and accessories.") Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations continues through Aug. 19 at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, so you haven't much time left to get there. Casting around for photographs to share with you, I've concluded that the best way to really see their creations up close is the excellent video Gallery Views of the Exhibition, narrated by Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton.
As I gazed into each vitrine, I found myself consistently enraptured by Schiaparelli's artistic vision, fabrics, and exquisite draping of the female form (see the evening gowns below). I would have worn so many items in a heartbeat! Prada, while fascinating and occasionally fabulous, not so much. What do you think?
Left:  Schiaparelli gown with faux-pleat fabric. Above left: her signature embroidered jackets.

Below are Prada highlights, from the exhibit and from a Vogue feature on it.

Schiaparelli dressed many celebrities, such as Marlene Dietrich, Wallis Simpson, and Mae West. The trend continues today, with actors such as Carey Mulligan sporting Prada couture.
Below: Schiaparelli photographed by Man Ray (San Francisco MOMA), her astrological jacket, and a close-up of her musical dress, with a working music box as a buckle—both from the Met Costume Institute's permanent collection of her couture.


"Schiaparelli’s career is a closed ouevre; we can see its full arc and her place in modernism, which is significant, not to mention fabulous. I’d rather look at her clothes than at work by most of her Surrealist buddies, Dalí, Jean Cocteau and Alberto Giacometti among them. By contrast Ms. Prada’s career is still, for all its fame and influence, a work (not to mention a zillion-dollar business) in progress."—New York Times
 Further reading, available on our website: Roberto Capucci: Art Into Fashion; Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress. Frida's Wardrobe: Fashion from the Museo Frida Kahlo; Taste the Fashion; John Bates: Fashion Designer; Jean Muir: Beyond Fashion; Lucien Lelong.

12 comments:

  1. I don't think I'm a fan of most of those outfits but I'm almost no fashionista. lol

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  2. Totally agree with those Schiaparelli evening gowns--gorgeous! I like also the prints on Prada's full skirts. Wallis Simpson was a terribly shallow but beautifully dressed socialite. What I can recall of Dietrich were her mannish outfits--were they the work of Schiaparelli too? The celebrities on the red carpet nowadays look like they are wearing negligees. Whatever happened to classic style?

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    1. I agree ... plunging necklines w/ droopy breasts is not a good look!
      The Prada print skirts are super, esp. up close. I think Dietrich had her mannish outfits done by a tailor. And yes, Simpson (and her husband) were the quintessence of shallow. They both were fixated on their apparel and on living the good life.

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  3. I gotta say I'm never really awe struck when it comes to fashion stuff, but these dresses are beautiful and I really dig the white belt with the teal buckle in the last photo.

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  4. I think my favorite might be the green(ish) dress with the red collar and waistline buttons. As is the case with a lot of these dresses though, not sure if I could pull them off!

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    1. I think it's supposed to be a lobster/seafoam theme (the buttons are some sort of crustacean). I didn't show her famous "lobster dress" -- a big ole red lobster printed on the front of a white dress. Wallis Simpson supposedly wore it to announce her engagement.

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  5. Bathsheba BabblingJuly 3, 2012 at 9:01 AM

    I'm a big fan of the embroidered jackets - especially that astrological one! Gorgeous.

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    1. Impossible to look bad in an embroidered jacket!

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  6. NO NO NO NO NO Prada!!! What were you thinking??? The Roman gladiator look??? Or is it more of a Trojan theme???? Come ON!!! Sooooo hideous. No one wants to see that!!! :-( I think I'm going to have to say I'm more of a fan of Schiaparelli...

    What is with that silly furry hat with the chin-strap??

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  7. I think the exhibition was ill-conceived. Making the 'impossible conversation' literal, turned a whimsical idea into something quite tedious, as Prada, in particular, labored to make predictable comments seem interesting. Then, with such a literal interpretation of their parallels (oh, Scap had a palm tree on something? let's find something by Prada with a palm tree...), it starts to seem like Prada copied Scap, because of course Scap came first historically. So we end up with a show that seems like it's important, which actually has very little to say.

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  8. I love these strong opinions--forcefully expressed!!

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  9. Definitely more of a Prada fan, but then again I generally despise most fashion from between 1945-2000. I know that's probably a very unpopular opinion, since most people long for the "good old days" of 1950s cinema and the classic styles of that era, but I'm a modern girl all the way. (With the exception of the 20s... Those women knew how to dress.)
    The embroidered jackets are the worst, I think. They have way too much going on, and are kind of shapeless, giving whoever wore them a somewhat mannish look. The white belt with the green buckle is pretty hideous, but I love that it's a music box! I would wear it just for that reason haha.

    I do like the orange Schiaparelli dress though. It's more shapely than the rest. More of a modern vibe. (Although it would probably look better in a color that's not...orange.)

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