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Le Shocking Story

Listening In at the Met's Prada-Schiaparelli Tête-à-Tête

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Gwyneth Paltrow   
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If your interest begins and ends at the red carpet, the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute Gala doesn't change all that much from year to year. As the CFDA's Steven Kolb put it last night: "Sometimes you walk in straight, sometimes you come in from the left, sometimes you come in from the right."

On the other hand, there's more to this particular fashion party than a glamorous entrance, and each edition informs the next. Last year's opener for the Alexander McQueen exhibition—a potent mix of spectacle, timeliness, and emotional punch—would seem to have raised the bar. Rather than try to come up with another single-designer blockbuster, this year the museum has boldly (you might even say provocatively) put two designers head-to-head, in Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations.

One has long belonged to the history books and the other is still going strong, but Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada are a couple of the most fearless nonconformists the fashion world has ever celebrated, and some guests couldn't but wonder what it might have been like had they literally shared a room.

"It would be very fiery—these are two powerful Italian women, and I think in their ways both quite complicated," offered Lady Amanda Harlech. "But I think they'd end up loving each other, and I think that would be a really exciting film."

As it happened, so did Baz Luhrmann. The director's short videos of Prada and "Schiap" conversing (featuring the Australian actress Judy Davis as the latter, reading from the designer's memoirs) play alongside the clothing exhibits, helping to drive home the idea of continuity and creative back-and-forth.

Prada didn't exactly bask in the attention. She barely broke her stride on the way in, pausing only to do a perfunctory live-stream interview with Elettra Wiedemann. "She's not comfortable with it at all," explained Luhrmann, who's close to the designer. "But it's part of being a creative force. You have to front."

Or, perhaps, let the kids and A-listers take the spotlight for you. More than a few of them employed Schiaparelli's trademark pink, the bright one the French still call "le shocking." That was the color of Poppy Delevingne's lips, of Lena Dunham's Stella McCartney pumps, and of the top that Coco Rocha paired with her vintage jumpsuit, a Givenchy number that once belonged to Elizabeth Taylor.

For all the praise lavished upon Schiap's sense of whimsy and her work with Salvador Dalí, there was little resembling one of the designer's famous bug necklaces or shoe hats in sight. Linda Fargo and Cameron Silver were exceptions to the rule, the latter arriving with a blowfish skewered on his walking stick.

Among the dozen or so dressed in Prada, Gwyneth Paltrow and Carey Mulligan, who served as co-chair, brought extra dazzle. Alexander Wang accompanied Azealia Banks, who performed after dinner. Pucci's Peter Dundas dressed Renée Zellweger. "No tape," he reported. "She's got very good posture."

Despite scoring a pile of pre-event headlines for dressing Kate Upton, Michael Kors arrived with Hilary Swank on his arm. "He is suave and wonderful and funny and charming. He picked me up at my apartment, like a gentleman," she cooed.

That's one kind of conversation that was going on at the Met. The more serious one proposed by the Met's curators awaited inside, and Joseph Altuzarra wondered what it would be like to be a third party in it. "I'd be totally intimidated," he confessed. "Although, I am in rooms with fiery Italian women during fittings for weeks on end, and it's usually OK."

Moments later, Giambattista Valli thought over the same proposition. "More scary to do this," he decided, scanning the canopied, raucous, celebrity-packed corridor leading up to the museum's doors, "than to sit and talk with amazing people."

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