The front row of the press preview today was a who’s who of fashion journalism’s elite and included Anna Wintour and exhibition subject, Miuccia Prada. Then there were well known others, a mere three rows in front of me: Sally Singer, Hamish Bowles and Susy Menkes (in purple from head to toe). Opening remarks were give by curators, Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton. Mr. Koda, Curator in Charge, is always a pleasure to listen to, he wields the kind of authority that is compelling and unassuming at the same time. He is truly one of the very few “fashion insiders” who is authentically interested in what people think about fashion, rather than imposing his viewpoint and forgetting the populist influence that style and trends absorb by osmosis. I do enjoy listening to Mr. Bolton as well; his view of the exhibitions he works on is always acutely constructed to reflect the academic nature of fashion — all the cultural perspectives we should take note of while ooh’ing and ahh’ing our way through the galleries.
Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 10 — August 19, 2012
The exhibition is centered around a theoretical conversation that the designers might have had if they hadn’t been born sixty years apart (Schaiparelli came first, btw). Both woman have a strong viewpoint, and yet both responded to their circumstances and times differently. Schiaparelli catered to cafe society so her focus took place from the waist up (all the better to be seen from above the table) whereas the exhibition proposes that Prada’s emphasis was from the waist down in many instances. Skirts and shoes feature here, although I will toss a wrench in this well-tooled frame of reference by adding here that Prada is a known collector of antique jewelry, and much of her clothing in the past has been influenced by her quiet passion, be it in embroidery, Prada jewelry, or wearing a tiara while taking a bow on the runway. So she is more than aware of what goes on upstairs.
Schiaparelli collaborated with surrealist artist, Salvador Dali, so what should we expect from such an incendiary mix? You guessed it. Bugs on a collar of plexiglas — creeping their way onto a dress, red lobster motifs in jewelry and on white dresses, fire-gilt ormolu that passes as a necklace — the world of ornament was limitless: no boundaries, no protocols, and certainly no dictates. Art blended with fashion, clothing became a statement of being rather than a message in the moment. The few pieces of jewelry on display speak to Schiaparelli’s inexhaustible choices and her sense of humor and irony. Prada’s ideas about jewelry are not as apparent in this exhibition although if you look closely at the way she embellishes a skirt with paillettes, cracked mirrors, beads, and embroidery, her opinion on jewelry is celebrated in those details. That brilliance that adds up to a swath of cloth. Perhaps we cannot wear a necklace around our fully clothed hips, yet Prada suggests that our lower halves deserve the same attention as a neckline, a wrist, a finger, or an earlobe. With just a little sparkle, scintillation surely follows.