Sunday, June 10, 2012

Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations

Well, once again we were inexplicably left off the list for the hottest ticket in town - the Metropolitan Museum of Art's annual Costume Institute Gala. So instead of wearing the wonderful gowns we'd prepared for the event, we wound up going in our civilian clothes, on the Memorial Day Monday, to see Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations. The Met is sometimes open on holiday Mondays. We foolishly thought it would be less crowded (thinking few people would know about the holiday opening hahahaha), but it was quite reasonable in comparison to the small city's-worth of people who came daily to see the McQueen show last year.

As soon as you walk in, it's as though you've entered a darkened movie theater, where you can sit down on sleek lacquered benches and watch Judy Davis (in a wonderful/awful hairdo) as Schiaparelli, and Miuccia Prada as herself, sitting at opposite ends of a very long table, drnking wine (champagne?) out of crystal glasses, discussing their lives and philosophies. There are several such shorts throughout the exhibition, all the work of Baz Luhrmann.

We wanted to know where the name came from. For those of you who think 'Well, of course it's impossible - Schiaparelli is long since gone' - you might also be right, but there is a specific origin for the title. Vanity Fair did a series called Impossible Interviews, by artist Miguel Covarrubias, pairing up strange proverbial bedfellows for imagined conversation. In the one that inspired this exhibition, we see Stalin parachuting with Schiaparelli, and are privy to their conversation.

The series is actually pretty fabulous (well, it WOULD be, coming from Vanity Fair), so if you’d like to see the full series, the current incarnation of Vanity Fair has put them on line. Click here to see nearly hundred year old humor that’s still pretty wonderful today.

At the entrance to the Museum, Valerie ascertained that photos were okay as long as no flash was used, but that rule did not apply to Impossible Conversations. So Valerie unwittingly took this one photo of a Prada feather and paillette skirt inside the show. That sort of fulfills our disobedience quota; but on the other hand if you don't know it's wrong, it doesn't really count as disobedience. (Other countries, feel free to disagree here.)

There was a fascinating juxtaposition of Schiaparelli jackets and Prada skirts. Schiaparelli designed for cafe society, where women sat at tables, and so needed to have an impact from the waist up. (A very practical approach to dressing.) Miuccia Prada takes an entirely different stance, preferring to lavish attention below the waist.

This philososphy extends to accessories, so Schiaparelli is well known for her headwear, while Prada is well known for her shoes, as showcased below.

How could you not love shoes with fins and tail lights, and all the marvelous little innuendoes that go with them here? (We love them even though we can only wear flats. Couldn't they have made a platform version???)

This Schiaparelli bridal veil is made of cotton net, sewn with blue bugle beads.

The show was divided into several sections. Waist Up / Waist Down, Hard Chic, Naif Chic, Ugly Chic, the Classical Body, the Exotic Body and the Surreal Body. Here are some examples of Hard Chic.

And goddess dresses. In the exhibition, Prada is quoted as saying that she made a dress so beautiful, she hated it, and wanted to destroy it, as it was contrary to her aesthetic.

Naif Chic has to do with the use of unusual, lighthearted prints. The Pradas are on the right, the Schiaparellis on the left.

Here is a close-up of the buttons on the left-most jacket. Also have a look at how the pockets taper at the bottom.

These two evening gowns are plain black from the waist down, so we're just showing you the circus-themed jackets. Both of these are Schiaparelli. It is said that Schiaparelli pioneered the use of jackets over evening gowns. Speaking of the circus, we once met a TV personality who, upon meeting us, exclaimed that the circus must be in town. (Yes, really!) So we're comforted knowing there's some really good precedent for circus themes. (For our part, we wanted to say "Yes, it's a few miles away. But it looks like Goodwill* must be right around the corner." We didn't, though...)

*And NOT the Goodwill WE shop at, needless to say!)

The lovely, demure little gown with understated floral decorations on the right seems so decorous until you look to see the strategic location of the two main blossoms.

Both designers have a fascination with what was generally frowned upon as being unfashionable, and both have sought to subvert that and not only raise ugliness to an art form but bring people to see beauty in what they initially dislike. Prada says she likes to work in brown because it is people's least favorite color.

Prada's gladiator-like dresses.

Schiaparelli did this dress in one of several collaborations with Salvador Dali. It was meant to look as though the dress had been torn in multiple places.

This woodgrain suit from the '30s could still be worn today and look completely contemporary.

In the front, below, a Prada dress with huge paillettes. In the back, the Duchess of Windsor wearing the Schiaparelli dress with Dali's painted lobster. In this room of glass and mirrors, there are several subtle and delightful optical illusions. The Duchess's dress is one of them: the Duchess does not move, but her skirt does, appearing to be lofted by a gentle breeze every few moments. In other cases, there are women who appear to flirt, closing and opening their eyes in a slow and sensuous manner.

A Prada jacket of black feathers, matched with a skirt in black and red feathers.

We have a few closing images for you. Hard to choose which one should come first - all three are great.

First, here is a 'wish' photo. We wish that like the two - um - people - in the photo, we could each have a Schiaparelli shoe hat that we could be photographed wearing together.

Second, fans of last year's Alexander McQueen show may have snapped up the Armadillo Shoe souvenir. (Jean says they would have sold twice as many if they'd made a left and a right shoe.) This year, the marketing folks at the Met, knowing good product when they see it, are selling a Prada shoe. No, it's not the tail light shoe (we wish! [that's two wishes now...]), but it's still a hot rod of a shoe, isn't it?

And see the little ring at the top of the heel? Some are saying that's so you can thread a ribbon through it and make it into a Christmas tree ornament. Silly us! We thought it was so you could thread a ribbon through it and wear it around your neck.

Finally, faithful readers have seen us complain and berate ourselves countless times for not getting a picture of both of us in the same frame. This time, right outside the Met, we got this woman with the real-looking camera to photograph us with our little toy cameras, after we photographed her - and after she asked to photograph us with her own camera. Isn't she great?! She took the photo that heads today's post.


As mentioned, we weren’t allowed to take photographs, but we found (and, we confess, we borrowed) some really great photographs on line. If the above have left you thirsty for more, click here to see the slide show.

Or click here for the Habitually Chic blogspot blog photo coverage.

Finally, The New Yorker has a very interesting article on the topic, so if you’d like to read more, click here.

Valerie is wearing: unlabeled vintage black straw hat from Helen Uffner, spiral metal earrings, Calvin Klein linen suit, Issey Miyake shirt, Yellow Submarine lunch box, Melissa shoes designed by Gareth Pugh.

Jean is wearing: black and cream straw hat by Ignatius, lucite and dice earrings and necklace by Kirsten Hawthorne, Cover Me Swim tunic, Tahari boatneck shirt, two vintage lucite bangle bracelets, two vintage lucite cuffs, two vintage lucite rings, H&M skirt, brothel creeper shoes by Underground, and I Love Lucy lunch box.


  1. I so wanted to see this exhibit - one of our students saw it and brought me back a copy of the calendar. I love the circus jacket - Schiaparelli always had the most fabulous buttons! Great style on the woman with the camera, including her curly mohawk.

  2. I adore that long goddess dress! It is absolutely stunning.

  3. Braveheart - VancouverJune 12, 2012 at 12:10 AM

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