August 21 2014

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Prada: Her Conversation With Elsa


The Costume Institute’s Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations show opens to the public on Thursday, following tonight’s red-carpet gala. The press preview this morning provided an early look at an exhibition that juxtaposes the fashions of two of our industry’s most provocative practitioners with videos of imagined conversations between them. Miuccia Prada plays herself and the late Elsa Schiaparelli is brought to life by the actress Judy Davis using real quotes from the designer’s autobiography, Shocking Life. The clips, which were directed by Baz Luhrmann, riff on not only Vanity Fair‘s 1930′s column “Impossible Interviews” but also Louis Malle’s 1981 film, My Dinner With Andre.

The designers are both female, Italian, and feminist, but they disagree more often that not. Schiaparelli: “Dress designing is to me not a profession, but an art.” Prada: “Fashion designers make clothes and they have to sell them. We have less creative freedom than artists. Maybe nothing is art. Who cares?”

Still, the curators Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton often make compelling connections between the designers’ work. The overlaps, for example, between Prada’s Fall 2012 Ugly Chic printed pantsuits (which, of course, reference her own 1990′s take on the 1970′s) and Schiaparelli’s circa-1930′s version are uncanny despite the nearly 80 years that separate them. The exhibition is divided into themes. In “The Surreal Body,” the show’s final section, dresses from each designer are encased in Lucite and juxtaposed with photos of the other’s work. “Schiaparelli is pulled out of the past, made more relevant, and Prada’s contemporary aesthetic is given a rich resonance,” Koda said during the preview, citing production designer Nathan Crowley’s “crisp, timeless” sets. He was nonetheless quick to point out that Prada resists the comparisons. “She was struck by the similarities between two pleated dresses, her own trompe l’oeil and Schiap’s 3-D. But she told me the eras that she looks at, that’s she’s interested in, are the fifties, sixties, and seventies. ‘I really don’t look at Schiaparelli,’ she said.”

Conflict, Malle could’ve told us, makes for good conversation.

Dept. of Culture