The exhibit explores the similarities between the two powerful Italian women fashion designers. Both were born in Italy, Schiaparelli in Rome in 1890, Prada in Milan in 1949. Both were from conservative families and both came late to fashion almost by accident. Schiaparelli started making her own clothes after living in Paris and not finding the clothing that suited her very own tastes. Her focus was designing hats and jackets. Ms. Prada on the other hand inherited a family luggage business, began to design bags, then shoes, then clothes eventually.
Based on Vanity Fair’s “Impossible Interviews” from the 1930′s, the exhibit shows a video conversation between actress Judy Davis, playing Ms. Schiaperelli and Ms. Prada herself. Created by Costume Institute curators Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton with the help of filmmaker Baz Luhrman, Bolton taped interviews with Ms. Prada and separately with Judy Davis whose script comes directly from Schiaparelli’s autobiography “Shocking Life”. He then cut the films together that you see the two powerful women having an “Impossible Conversation” across a long dinner table at the beginning of the show, and several times throughout.
Intro Baz Luhrmann Met Video
The exhibition also displays several designs from both designers with the main topic: waist up vs waist down. Schiaparelli tells us that back in her time, society women were often encountered seated at tables in cafes or restaurants. She, as a fashion designer was therefore most interested in designing clothing items that were most visible in such situations: everything from the waist up. Ms. Prada, who had experienced hippie back-to-the-earthness along with the sexual revolution was more focused on the lower part of the body: everything from the waist down. The show gives us therefore an interesting selection of Schiaparelli’s jackets and hats, while Prada shows us her skirts and shoes.
I think this exhibit was excellent performed even though I don’t think it will be such a success as McQueen’s “Savage Beauty” drama from last year. Prada and Schiaparelli’s “Impossible Conversation” is an inspiring, intellectual piece of history that delivers some of the main answers to the never outdated question: what makes a woman desirable to herself? Surely the most important issue for independent and emancipated women back then and now.
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