Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations

Sometimes you just need to sit in an entirely empty museum in front of a gigantic, intricate, overwhelming Jackson Pollock in complete and utter silence to get a handle on things. And by some bizarre twist of fate early this week I was able to do just that. An amazing, hardworking, glowing friend of mine has been interning at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and was recently hired on at their Costume Institute (CONGRATS!) and a major perk of working in this cultural institution is being admitted to the galleries when closed to the public on Mondays. Apart from being able to quietly commune with masterpieces of art I found that watching the inner workings of the closed museum interesting too, a thing I have experienced often during my days facilitating museum installations but the scale of operations at The Met were fascinating as elaborate, elegant flower displays were trimmed to classical perfection, frond clippings falling from huge heights onto the marble below and priceless bronze busts tarped with regular old packing blankets and carted off on raggedy handtrucks as if they were just things as opposed to experiences. But the highlight of my day here was most definitely a private tour lead by my friend of the Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibit which I was dying to see and so lucky to see without the gobs of fashion lovers that hang like heavy costume jewels around these shows! No offense fashion lovers but your purses (and personalities) are just too big!

As with almost all the fashion related shows that The Met sponsors this one was no exception in it's complete and utter visionary perfection, taking an art that is not always considered as such and transcending it to something beyond form or function into a utilitarian high art that is hard to describe. The backdrop of the entire exhibit was a series of videos conceived by Baz Lurhmann! Yes! That Baz Lurhmann whose epic showy bombastic dreams are the types of films that auteurs are made of! (And whose upcoming version of The Great Gatsby looks like it won't disappoint in what we've come to expect from him!) This series of films was no exception in talent either of course...more subdued than his normal displays, the videos imagined a conversation between female Italian fashion idols Miuccia Prada and the late Elsa Schiaparelli (as played by a curt, sharp Judy Davis).

Schiaparelli's words were mostly compiled from her writings about her life and work, and Prada responds to Davis/Schiaparelli with her own ideas on fashion, culture, politics, gender- all of the things that make a life and a life's work. The films were beautifully executed with graphic interludes, typed words scrolling around that further impacted what the women were saying, the scene set with them seated across a large shiny wooden table with a chandelier above, speaking in strong voices with even stronger accents- I have never seen an exhibition exposition made so vividly! An inside scoop told me that the women were filmed apart form one another too, not actually in the same room, a blending that was nearly seamless but does account for the sort of ghostly absent quality that I felt but a quality that managed to ease the concept of an actress channeling a real person and a real woman speaking with her- a kind of separation similar to me sitting here typing words to strangers that would be made strange if we were in the same room and I was reading them to you perhaps...? And these films were just the foundation of the show! The clothes! The shoes! Schiaparelli's collaborations with Dali! The newer bold neon accents and platformed shoes on a thick, light color line that everywhere I turn there is a knock off of! The perfectly refined black dress with such small geometric variation that makes it a nearly hidden structural masterpiece! All of these things tracking the ideas that are important to the designers and the zeitgeist of the time and place from which they hail.

Seeing this show made me have an understanding of where fashion fits in today's cultural landscape too. Even though fashion can be seen as a sculptural textile artform it is also a commercial one making it skate a fine line of how seriously we take it in the artworld but, as accessibility, the increase in the commercialization of the fine art world, a serious internet/blog/photo journalism culture and a recent boom in documentary films on the subject suggest new platforms are allowing for the ubiquitous nature of fashion to become a more defined thing and a more studied thing as patterns emerge, care is taken in preservation and academia seems to take more interest in the fact that what we wear can define so much more than the actual things we are wearing. One of the shoes on display was the best sculpture I have seen in awhile with just as much elegance in a curve as any Brancusi, as much history of an era in it's color palette and composed of a shiny leather & wood so expertly crafted...a beautiful artifact with an undeniable aura, a thing that is much, much more than merely something I would want to wear upon my foot! Not that I am saying I wouldn't mind a pair of Prada pumps though! The entire show, from concept to staging, was absolutely incredible. Even if you don't consider yourself a fashion lover there is an element of formal perfection present in all forms of media at the Schiaparelli & Prada show making it easy to find some element you can appreciate, appreciate through the eyes and clothes of these women and their unwavering, unapologetic ideals.

I grabbed these images from the web as to respect the no photo policy and not be removed from my childhood dream of sneaking around The Met in off hours! Afternote: After I read this post I realized something was lacking. It is nearly impossible to try and relate the beauty of these very tactile, wearable, personal crafts. The strength in them is seeing them come alive as they fit around a very important element that is necessary to their aura: the human form. They are created as a thing to be felt and admired by the wearer and those around them as they sit upon a body in a way that one must experience in person and, if you read the very complex, specific dialect of Vogue there is an art in writing about them that is just as rich that I am not capable of. So...maybe you should just see the show? Or head on over to Soho, stare at the beauty and wonder, and if you play it right, try on and experience fashion in the real way it is meant to be appreciated.



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.