Exhibit shines spotlight on Schiaparelli, Prada

Wed May 9, 2012 11:40am EDT
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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - They are both women, Italian and innovative fashion designers but Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada worked in different eras and had distinctive views and approaches to their work.

A new exhibition organized by the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art examines the work and affinities of the two luxury designers.

"Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations," which opens on Thursday and runs through August 19, features about 100 designs by Schiaparelli, a fashion fixture from the late 1920s to the early 50s, and Prada, whose work ranges from the late 80s to the present.

"We wanted it to be intellectual. We wanted people to read it and to actually get into the heads of these women," said Harold Koda, the curator in charge of the show.

Koda and his co-curator Andrew Bolton found inspiration for the show in Miguel Covarrubias's satirical "Impossible Interviews," which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine in the 1930s.

The show includes short films by director Baz Luhrmann in which Prada has a conversation at a dining table with Schiaparelli, played by actress Judy Davis who uses paraphrased dialogue from the designer's autobiography "Shocking Life."

The videos of the conversations are played in the seven themed sections of the show, giving it a tight cohesion. Schiaparelli's tailored and embroidered jackets and hats, her response to 1930s cafe society in which women were seen mainly in restaurants from the waist up, are paired with Prada's modern emphasis on skirts and shoes.

Their interpretations of different types of chic -- hard, naive and ugly -- and their thoughts on femininity, age-appropriate dressing and the use of discordant colors and materials is shown in their designs and explained in their own words.   Continued...

Fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in 1932. REUTERS/Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art