A Preview: Schiaparelli and Prada Exhibition

photos of Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The fashion, museum, and dress studies worlds have been a buzz since the success of the Met’s Costume Institute exhibition featuring Alexander McQueen last year. It was a hit, and drove scores of visitors into the museum. Lines to get in lasted hours and proved to administrators that fashion in museums can have a big impact. So it was with great anticipation that fans waited to hear what this year’s topic would be.

The exhibition was announced — Schiaparelli and Prada. Two great female designers from Italy would be showcased. Elsa Schiparelli designed clothing from the late 1920s until 1954 and is renowned for her surrealist approach. Miuccia Prada on the other had took over her family’s leather goods business in 1978, and turned it into a powerhouse fashion company.

Many wondered how this exhibition would work. Prada herself stirred controversy when she criticized the curatorial team regarding their process. Even I wondered how deep the exhibition would delve and if the narrative would feel contrived.

The Met has released a preview of the exhibition on its website, probably hoping to quiet some of the misgivings and definitely hoping to drum up excitement.

The full title of the exhibition is Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, appropriate since these designers worked decades apart in different eras. The contexts their clothing were created in and worn in are very different, so the exhibition must imagine conversations by using the clothing as a guide.

We now know the exhibition will be organized into seven different sections: Waist Up/Waist Down, Ugly Chic, Hard Chic, Naif Chic, The Classic Body, The Exotic Body, and The Surreal Body.

I admit that some of these topics sound really intriguing.

Take for instance Waist Up/Waist Down, which will look at Schiaparelli’s above the waist decorative detailing and Prada’s focus on the lower body. There will be a subsection in it called Neck Up/Knees Down looking at Schiaparelli’s hats and Prada’s footwear.

I think I am most interested in the Ugly Chic section, which will “reveal how both women subvert ideas of beauty and glamour by playing with good and bad taste through color, prints, and textiles.” I am fascinated by themes of finding beauty in the grotesque and other subversive ideas of what attractiveness is. This could be one of the best “conversations” in the entire exhibition.

And then there is the Surreal Body. No one has done surrealism in fashion better than Schiaparelli, and I’m interested to see how Prada’s work stands against Elsa’s.

There are images of both women’s work organized into the seven sections along with a video of curators Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton talking about the exhibition.

What do you think of the exhibition preview? Are you surprised? More or less excited to see it yourself?

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