Started on the 11th April 2011 - Blogging from a 20 year old Fashion Student

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

"Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations" @ the MET

This exhibition, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC), outlines the lives of two designers from different eras throughout their careers as fashion designers. 

The works of Miuccia Prada (born in 1949) and Elsa Schiaparelli (1890 - 1973) are shown side by side, clearly outlining the similarities (yet often different opinions) within the styles of garments by the two designers. 

The seven themed galleries show the parallels between Schiaparelli and Prada's designs, and their process of design:

"Waist up/Waist down" - the orchestrated conversations between the two designers illustrate in this gallery that Elsa Schiaparelli lived in an era where women would go to tea ("cafe society") and so wanted to look good sitting down especially; so she designed outfits where the waist up was overly decorated and embellished. She did this by accentuating the shoulders and emphasising the bust. 

This is then compared with Miuccia Prada's designs where she experiments with a more subtle style, with garments decorated from the waist down - "instinctively, I refuse that women have to be beautiful from the waist up... so many things happen from the waist down, sex, giving birth, being connected to the earth...". So, in turn, this gallery expresses the difference in ideas and values that these women have/had, while at the same time, comparing the fact that they liked to emphasise certain parts of the body for different purposes. 

"Ugly Chic" - this gallery was centred around the two designers experimenting with ways of making the classic "frumpy" silhouette look chic, done through use of luxurious fabrics and textile design. Schiaparelli's designs were created to make the wearer feel beautiful, but this was fuelled by a constant striving for acceptance from her mother, she wanted to be regarded by others as beautiful also. Miuccia Prada, on the other hand, has often said that she feels fashion shouldn't be about making a woman look sexy, it isn't about how a man regards a woman, fashion and clothing is about making the wearer feel good about themselves.
   Prada didn't necessarily introduce the idea of ugliness in fashion, she simply didn't want to conform to the traditional ways of representing women as beautiful "objects". 

"All my life I have been working against the cliché of beauty and the necessity and obligation of being sexy"
-Miuccia Prada

"Hard Chic" - Fashion is usually a representation of the designer's style, thoughts and way of thinking, however, both Miuccia and Elsa wanted to prevent their personal thoughts and beliefs from being shown to the world through their garments. Schiaparelli unleashed her innovative designs to the world, for example, her trouser skirt was seen as extremely provocative item of clothing when she was first seen wearing it in London. 

"I tried to make the men more human, and the women more powerful"
-Miuccia Prada

Just as the designers had become empowered by unleashing their thoughts in the form of their designs, they began to design for powerful women. When Schiaparelli had started to become known in the fashion world, women were only just dipping their toes into the pool of equality. Between the two world wars, Schiaparelli's designs evolved significantly. 
   This evolving of style has been mirrored by the work of Prada, as strong, tailored pieces have been a staple in the designer's collections for decades now - conveying a sense of powerful femininity. 

"Naïf Chic" - Naïf Chic, (or Naïve Chic) describes Schiaparelli's demeanour, before putting on her "armour", her outrageous designs. The element of acting, putting on a persona as certain clothes are put on. 
   In this gallery, both designers' collections are not only fanciful, but take on a lighthearted, innocent and childlike element. The strong theme of gardens and florals are seen throughout as both designers express a want to be free:

"we can't be imprisoned by fashion!"
-Miuccia Prada

In the orchestrated discussion, directed by Baz Luhrmann, the designers talk about allowing oneself to "take flight" and regress into a childlike attitude towards fashion as one gets older. The collection reflects this attitude well; "naïf chic", or "carefree fashion".

"The Classical Body" - Evening wear, a classic piece in any woman's wardrobe for centuries, was tackled by both Schiaparelli and Prada. Both designers used the same format of length, drapery, accentuated waists etc, however, Miuccia Prada felt that there can be no new ways of making drapery look modern.
   Schiaparelli was famous for introducing the bias cut into fashion as a way of creating a flattering gown, but with little architecture or seaming. As the fabric is cut against the weave, it allows more give, and therefore becomes a little more "stretchy" (depending on the fabric used). 
   Elsa Schiaparelli's Pagan collection was another opportunity for the designer to experiment with accentuating the architecture of the female body, whereas Prada looked at how the body was enhanced underneath the clothing. Bandeau's paired with skirts, soft fabrics and ruching are all reminiscent of underwear and slips worn underneath elaborate dresses - although very elegant, Prada's designs seem more effortless, less embellished.
   Another way Miuccia Prada began to adapt the classic style of drapery was to create pliable fabric, integrated with metal. Although extremely unwearable, Miuccia had invented a new way of drapery, by contorting the fabric with your hands. The ultimate piece of adaptable clothing!

"The Exotic Body" - Exoticism was traditionally influenced by both designers through the use of garish prints.
   Schiaparelli took influences from distant countries, other religions and adapted it to her clothing in the form of textiles and embellishment. By the time Prada was starting to embark on the theme of the exotic, it had already been done, by Schiaparelli and various other designers. She wanted to experiment with different, more abstract ways of showing cultures within fashion.
   Exactly as the title suggests, the Exotic Body "explores the influence of Eastern cultures through fabrics such as lamé, and silhouettes such as saris and sarongs". When I first saw the collections, however, I thought that the gold and drapery used throughout was quite reminiscent of Ancient Greek fashions, the lavishness of colour and texture. Wanting to display wealth. 

"The Surreal Body" - Schiaparelli, who worked in Paris from the 1920s to the mid 1950s, was closely associated with the surrealist movement (most notably for her "Tear Dress, "Bug Necklace" and "Shoe Hat"). - all likened to the works of artists such as Dali who conformed to the values of Surrealism).
   Schiaparelli believed that fashion was a form of art and so formed collaborations with Dalí, an artist who openly conformed to the values of Surrealism, and therefore was greatly suited to working with Schiaparelli. Together, they created pieces such as the lobster dress, skeleton dress and her famous shoe hat - and by doing so she successfully mixed the worlds of fashion and art together, supposedly so that everyone else would believe her, fashion is art.

Miuccia Prada, was similarly associated with Postmodernism (a form of surrealism). Due to her taking over her family's Milan-based business, Prada wanted to adapt and modernise a slightly old-fashioned business. Her use of Postmodernism (a style that progresses on from Modernism, whilst also tying in elements of the past). Prada, however, didn't want to associate her garments with being works of art. She sees it as something that's already been done, whereas to Schiaparelli and all her "fans", it was revolutionary.

"Designers are not artists... I think you just have to do your job, who cares about the title"
-Miuccia Prada

Fashion profiles on both designers are coming soon! Along with more exciting interviews! 
- Stay tuned x

-I highly recommend buying the exhibition's book-

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  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to make such a detailed and informative post! I would die to see this exhibition, I really wish it would come to London but if Savage Beauty didn't then I highly doubt this one will- McQueen is a British label so it's even more unfair that the exhibition didn't showcase here... I will most definitely be buying the book now that I've read this! Really cool blog by the way, I highly approve of the picture of Lord Disick ;)

  2. Thank you so much, that's so sweet of you to say! I was afraid no one would read it - took me soo long! haha. I know! I signed a few petitions for the McQueen exhibition to come to London atleast, he was born there, trained there, it's ridiculous that it wasn't shown here first!

    The book is fabulous! Way better than the V&A ballgown book (:

    hahahahahaa L.D.! thanks again sweetie! xxxxxxx