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Jill Krementz covers Schiaparelli and Prada at the Met

Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada
Impossible Conversations

Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute

May 10-August 19, 2012

The spring 2012 exhibition organized by the Met's Costume Institute stars two Italian designers from different eras: Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada.

Curated by Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton, the four galleries feature approximately 100 designs and 40 accessories (from the late 1920's to the early 1950's) by Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) and by Miuccia Prada (from the late 1980's to the present).

Eight short videos by director/filmmaker Baz Luhrmann recreate imagined conversations between the two designers. The mannequin head treatments and masks are designed by Guido Palau.

A book, Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations ($45), by Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda, with an introduction by Judith Thurman, has been published by the Met and is distributed worldwide by Yale University Press. The 308-page catalogue has more than 200 vintage and newly photographed images of the designers' work. Within the book, tipped into the spine like magazine subscription cards, are inserts (books within a book) featuring the "impossible conversations" between the two women. The inserts make the book all but impossible to read.
Andrew Bolton, Curator, and Harold Koda, Curator in Charge, both of the Met's Costume Institute.
Amazon's Jeff Bezos (Honorary Chair) and Emily Rafferty, President of the Met. Vogue's Anna Wintour.
Vogue's Hamish Bowles. Billy Norwich.
Harold Koda with Robin Givhan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic at The Daily Beast/Newsweek. Harold Holzer, the Met's senior vice president of external affairs and well-known Lincoln scholar.
Two of my colleagues at the press conference: Lee Rosenbaum (Culturegrrl) and Edward Maloney (Editor of The Art Cart).
Front row center: Miuccia Prada.

In what must be an all-time low point in my career as a photojournalist I was confronted by a Met Public Affairs officer and forbidden to take any more pictures of the chairs. You can see the officer's hand at top of frame trying to block my coverage.
This is what happened to the last photojournalist who tried to photograph a chair with a place card.
Jeff Bezos, Thomas Campbell (director of the Met), and Anna Wintour leading Miuccia Prada to her "no-longer secret " seat of honor.
Even though I arrived an hour before the press conference I had to sit in a back row and was unable to take photographs of Tom Campbell, Harold Koda, and Andrew Bolton as they made their remarks. I had put in a request a month prior to the event to be seated near the front hoping that my last year's coverage of the Alexander McQueen show, a layout of over 100 photographs with text, might pave the way.

There was a very brief (three minutes) photo op after the press conference: Emily Rafferty, Baz Luhrmann, Anna Wintour, Miuccia Prada, and Jeff Bezos.

Luhrmann created 8 short videos for the exhibition portraying imaginary conversations between "Schiap" and Prada where the women are seated at a dining table.
One more example of why I love "photo-ops" with six photo-optees looking in six different directions.

The woman in white on far right is Cathy Beaudoin, president of fashion for Amazon. A recent story in the New York Times says that Bezos's next target will be closets, i.e. where we keep our clothes -- or, say, our Prada wardrobes.
Fern Mallis, who started 7th on Sixth. Fabricio dos Santos is Fern Mallis's assistant.
According to Andrew Bolton:

The pairing of Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada originally emerged out of rather superficial similarities, such as their gender, their Italian heritage, and their feminist posturings. Over the course of organizing the exhibition, however, more fundamental similarities emerged. For both Schiaparelli and Prada, fashion is a means to express rather complex ideas, ideas that not only reflect but also respond to the prevailing artistic, cultural, and political attitudes of their respective eras.

While the themes in the show reflect shared interests between Schiaparelli and Prada, the conversation often reveal strikingly different strategies. Perhaps the most significant difference between the two women is Schiaparelli's belief that fashion is art and Prada's belief that it is not.
Andrew Bolton is wearing a Thom Browne suit with whatever that is sticking out of back collar, recognizable to Thom Browne fashionistas. You can guess who designed the shoes.
Suzy Menkes, Fashion Editor of the International Herald Tribune. My assistant, Maria Escalante, is on
the right.
David Vincent, who writes for UK Harper's Bazaar and The Guardian. He and Mr. Bolton are long-time partners. Nancy Chilton is the head of communications for The Costume Institute.
And now ... into the exhibition.
"Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations."

Seven projected films are interspersed throughout the exhibit. Directed by Baz Luhrmann, their intent is to place the viewer in the role of an eavesdropper secretly observing the private exchange between the two women.
Schiaparelli is played by the actress Judy Davis. Much of the dialogue, taken from the designer's autobiography Shocking Life, is paraphrased to suggest an informal, conversational tone.
A montage of a Schiaparelli hat and two pairs of Prada shoes.

'Waist up/Waist down" focuses on two zones of the body: the waist up for Schiaparelli (hats and jewelry) and the waist down (shoes) for Prada.

Schiaparelli's emphasis largely stems from the social needs of her day – specifically, the demands of Café Society. As women were usually seated in restaurants, decoration from the waist down was essentially redundant.

Prada: I'm more known for my shoes. For me, shoes are where I can express my fantasy, my imagination. I think you have much more freedom to be outrageous... more room for craziness, for exaggeration. In my spring 2012 collection, for instance, my shoes resembled Cadillacs, complete with tail lights.
Elsa Schiaparelli
"Shoe" Hat, winter 1937–38
Black wool felt

Schiaparelli: Dalí was a constant caller. We devised together … the black hat in the form of a shoe with a Shocking velvet heel standing up like a small column .... There was another hat resembling a lamb cutlet with a white frill on the bone, and this, more than anything else, contributed to my fame for eccentricity.
Miuccia Prada
Shoes, spring/summer 2012

Left: Red, black and white patent leather with flame motifs.

Right: Blue, white and yellow patent leather with Swarovski crystal and patent leather flower and fin-shaped heel with red plastic tail light.
Elsa Schiaparelli
Hat, autumn 1939
Green coated leaves, red silk velvet and celluloid grapes
Miuccia Prada
Shoes, autumn/winter, 2012-13
Black leather, appliquéd with white and red flowers
Miuccia Prada
Shoes, spring/summer 2006
Brown leather and rattan
Elsa Schiaparelli
Necklace, ca. 1938
Red silk velvet and gold metal bows
enameled pink
Elsa Schiaparelli
Necklace, autumn 1938
Gold metal with orange and green enameled metal leaves
Miuccia Prada
Shoes, spring/summer 1997
Cream, brown and red leather appliqued with red leather leaves
Journalist Linda Yablonsky, who is wearing the Prada displayed in showcase. Yablonsky's shoes are from the designer's spring/summer 2011 collection. Made of black leather, they have soles of natural rope, blue, white, and gray rubber.
Elsa Schiaparelli
Veil, spring 1938
Cotton net embroidered with blue glass bugle beads
Miuccia Prada
Shorts, spring/summer 2010
Grey silk duchesse satin printed with palm trees
Left to right:

Miuccia Prada
Skirt, spring/summer 2008
Light green organza printed with illustrations by James Jean

Elsa Schiaparelli
Evening Jacket and Blouse, 1939
Black wool plain weave jacket and yellow rayon satin-back crepe blouse embroidered with metallic thread and yellow rhinestones

Miuccia Prada
Skirt and Leggings, autumn/winter 1999–2000
Skirt of green silk organza embroidered with mirrors, brown and orange leather leaves and metal grommets; leggings of green synthetic

Elsa Schiaparelli
Evening Jacket, autumn 1938
Black rayon crepe and pink silk moiré faille embroidered with plastic insects with black plaster leaf–shaped buttons
Miuccia Prada
Skirt, autumn/winter 2007-8
Orange silk twill, black wool felt, and orange feathers with ornage plastic fringe
HARD CHIC

Prada: I'm told that the women who wear my clothes vary dramatically. Of course, I'd hope that they were clever and interesting. I'd also hope that my clothes made their lives a little easier, that they made them feel happier. Not more beautiful necessarily, just more of a person. I try to make women feel more powerful without losing their femininity.

Schiaparelli: Many men admire strong women, but they do not love them. Some women have achieved a combination of strength and tenderness, but most of those who have wanted to walk alone have, in the course of the game, lost their happiness.
Close-up of mannequin heads.
Gallery installation.
No one looks anymore ... they just snap pictures on their cellphone.
NAIF CHIC

Elsa Schiaparelli
Evening Dress, summer 1937
Pink silk organza printed with butterflies
Elsa Schiaparelli
Jacket, 1938
"Shocking pink" silk satin woven with circus horses in blue silk and gold metallic thread with acrobat-shaped buttons

Schiaparelli: My most riotous and swaggering collection was that of the circus. Barnum, Bailey, Grock, and the Fratellinis got loose in a mad dance.
Miuccia Prada
Ensemble, spring/summer 2011
Shirt of black cotton poplin printed with bananas; skirt of black cotton canvas
printed with bananas and baroque scrolls

Miuccia Prada
Ensemble, spring/summer 2011
Shirt of cotton poplin printed with orange and black stripes and baroque scrolls; skirt of black cotton canvas printed with bananas.

Prada: My most playful collection was my spring 2011 collection. Its genesis was cotton uniforms but it evolved into musicals, like the ones starring Carmen Miranda. Prints and embroideries featured monkeys and bananas among swirling baroque scrolls. It was one of my most commercially successful collections, which came as a surprise. I never thought people would want to wear clothes with monkeys and bananas on them.
CLASSICAL BODY

Elsa Schiaparelli
Evening Dress, autumn 1938
Purple (faded to gray) silk crepe embroidered with posies in silk floss and a floral wreath in sequins and plastic paillettes with purple plastic zipper
Schiaparelli: I feel that clothes have to be architectural: that the body must never be forgotten and it must be used as a frame is used in a building .... The more the body is respected, the better the dress acquires vitality .... The Greeks … understood this rule, and gave to their goddesses … the serenity of perfection and the fabulous appearance of freedom.
Miuccia Prada
Dress, autumn/winter 2009–10
Brown leather embroidered with brown and black paillettes, beads, and silk thread;
underdress of black silk velvet and crepe embroidered with black beads

Miuccia Prada
Dress, autumn/winter 2009–10
Brown leather embroidered with brown and black paillettes, beads and silk thread;
underdress of black silk crepe embroidered with black beads

If you read the labels carefully you will see that the underdresses are different.
Prada shoes on mannequins.
Ilaria Dagnini Brey. A native of Padua, Italy, Ms. Brey has been contributing stories to Italian Elle for 15 years. She is the author of a book, The Venus Fixers, originally published by FSG and now available in paperback (Picador). It is the story of the allied officers who tried to protect the monuments of Italy during WWII. Her husband, Carter Brey, has been the principal cellist with the New York Philharmonic since 1996.
Elsa Schiaparelli
Ensemble, 1938

White matelassé silk printed in black wood grain pattern with leaf–shaped button
Elsa Schiaparelli/Salvador Dalí
"Tear" Dress, 1938

Ivory synthetic and silk printed with trompe l'oeil tears
Edward Maloney, who writes for The Arts Cart.

"I think Schiaparelli comes off as the greater artist.

When she wants to be irreverent, Schiaparelli comes off as funny. When Prada tries to be irreverent, she's vulgar.

And I miss seeing any men's designs."






Cristiana Lopez is wearing Prada, waist up, and on her arm, an Elsa Schiaparelli vintage bracelet. Ms. Lopez, a fashion editor for Italian magazines Fashion and Posh, is also a stylist. "I styled a show at Lincoln Center in February," she told me, "with an extensive collection of '20s to '90s vintage jewelry and accessories. I sell them at special events all over the world.

"As a tribute to Elsa Schiaparelli's original creativity I wear something signed by her almost every day--a scarf, a bracelet, a pair of earrings--because her accessories are so artistic and luxurious! I like to think that Schiaparelli and Prada's creative genius derives in part from the fact that they are Italian. I am Italian too!"
Miuccia Prada ensembles.
The most surreal part of this gallery was that I kept seeing someone who looked like me. That's because it WAS me. So many mirrors. Elsa Schiaparelli/Salvador Dali
Dress with Printed Lobster, 1937
Photograph of Wallis Simpson by Cecil Beaton, Vogue, June 1, 1937
Miuccia Prada
Ensemble, autumn/winter 2011–12
Apricot wool and synthetic double knit, and synthetic fur
Miuccia Prada
Dress, autumn/winter 2007–8
Brown and orange ombré wool cloquet with orange plastic fringe and feathers
Miuccia Prada
Dress, spring/summer 2007
Black silk satin embroidered with pressed metal "bottle tops"
Elsa Schiaparelli/Salvador Dali
"Inkpot" Hat, summer 1938
Photograph by Studio Dorvyne, L'Officiel, April 1938

Eyes opened.
Eyes closed.

Look carefully. It's a projected photograph which keeps changing.
This projected photograph also keeps changing from eyes wide open to eyes closed tight.
Left: Elsa Schiaparelli/Jean Cocteau
Coat, autumn 1937
Blue (faded to lavender) silk and synthetic knit embroidered with an optical illusion in metal and silk thread and appliqued with pink silk flowers

Right: Miuccia Prada
Ensemble, spring/summer 2000
Cardigan of purple cashmere and silk; skirt of white silk crepe printed with
lipsticks
Schiaparelli: Working with artists like … Jean Cocteau … gave one a sense of exhilaration. One felt supported and understood beyond the crude and boring reality of merely making a dress to sell. Prada: I don't collaborate with artists in the field of fashion because I want to be successful—both creatively and commercially—on my own. I don't want, and I don't need, artists to make my work more appealing.
Miuccia Prada
Ensemble, spring/summer 2000
Cardigan of light brown cashmere and silk; skirt of white silk crepe printed with lips
Miuccia Prada
Bottom half of Ensemble, spring/summer 2000
Skirt of white silk crepe printed with lipsticks
Visitors will exit into the gift shop devoted to merchandise related to
the exhibition.
The show's catalogue and framed poster.
postcards.
Sheila Metcalf, who works in the Met's gift shop. Exhibition poster. You can see how that Schiaparelli shoe hat should be worn.
Prada scarves.
Prada bags: $335 a set.
Lilah Ramzi, 21, has been working as an intern at the Met for a month. Don Pollard is the Met's official photographer.
Prada shoe ornament: $30. I bought one for my daughter, Lily.
Prada Earrings: $230 a pair.
Close-ups of two pairs of the earrings: Bananas and Lobsters.
Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, by Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda, with an introduction by Judith Thurrman: $45.
Outside the museum after The Press Preview ...
At 1 p.m. on Monday, Vogue's André Leon Talley was being interviewed by Entertainment Tonight's Nancy O'Dell. The segment would air that evening.
André Leon Talley and Nancy O'Dell getting ready for their close-up.
Model and writer Zoë Zellers snaps a quick photo on her cell phone as she exits "Impossible Conversations." She's wearing an Armani leather jacket, new Karl Lagerfeld sunglasses, a Laundry by Shelli Segal floral skirt, and Chloé handbag.

Ms. Zellers' summation of the Met exhibit:

"Forget the movies — in clever and whimsical fashion the Met's bringing us a major summer blockbuster hit with its "Impossible Conversations." Beyond extraordinary lighting and staging, the juxtaposition of Prada and The Great Schiap is colorful and fabulously inventive, plus I love the fact that the museum is showcasing these two well-to-do Catholic schoolgirls gone ... bold!"


What's not to love about André's Uggs?
And thus ends another day at the Met.

Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.




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