Monday, June 18, 2012

Schiaparelli and Prada at the Met

Wallis Simpson wearing Schiaparelli

"She shook back her shining hair .  For this evening, she had managed to borrow the Schiaparelli dress.  It was made of taffeta, with small side panniers stuck out with cleverly curved pads over the hips.  It was coloured dark blue, green, orange and white in a floral pattern as from the Pacific Islands.  
He said, 'I don't think I've ever seen such a gorgeous dress.'  
'Schiaparelli,' she said.
He said, 'Is that the one you swap amongst yourselves?
'Who told you that?'
'You look beautiful,' he replied.
She picked up the rustling skirt and floated away up the staircase.  Oh, the girls of slender means!"

 --  Muriel Spark, "The Girls of Slender Means" 


Last week I was in New York and got a chance to see the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute's retrospective "Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada:  Impossible Conversations."  It is a fascinating and beautiful show, comparing and contrasting work by two designers of different generations.  It includes an imaginative film by Baz Luhrmann featuring the actress Judy Davis playing Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada.  They are sitting across from each other at a dining table having a conversation about clothes and feminism.  Although the women lived during different time periods, there are many similarities between the two.  They were both born in Italy to old, conservative families.  Both of them rebelled early on and when they started designing clothing, they brought an original and fresh perspective: Prada inspired women to dress for themselves and not for a man and Schiaparelli was influenced by Surrealism through her friend Salvador Dali and incorporated it into some of her designs.  (The surrealist designs are outstanding, though they don't dominate the show; most of her clothes are elegant and relatable.)  Her lobster dress was worn by Wallis Simpson and is in this exhibition.  It is truly something to see!

A film featuring Miucccia Prada and actress Judy Davis playing Elsa Schiaparelli plays behind the fashions they designed

This segment is called "Waist Up/Waist Down" and pairs skirts by Prada with jackets by Schiaparelli

Shoes by Prada and necklaces by Schiaparelli

Judy Davis playing Elsa Schiaparelli in the film by Baz Luhrmann that plays throughout the exhibition

If you get a chance to see this show, don't miss it.  You will enjoy getting to know these two strong and creative women through Baz Luhrmann's film.  I loved Judy Davis' portrayal of Elsa Schiaparelli.  The conversation between her and Miuccia Prada as captured in this film is fascinating.  And the clothes are fabulous!  Both designers have made major contributions to the art of fashion design and it is exciting to see such a large collection of both their designs in one place.   Don't miss Shiaparelli's "Lobster Dress and her "Tears Dress," both influenced by Salvador Dali.

 Photo via here

All photos (except the last two) from The New York Times


  1. How I'd love to see that. It was only when I re-read Muriel Spark recently that I realised that the shared dress was a fabulous taffeta print; somehow I'd always imagined it in my mind as Schiaparelli pink.

    1. I know, doesn't it sound dreamy? You must be a Muriel Spark fan. I've only recently gotten into her books, and am really enjoying them.

  2. That quote is inspiring me to read the novel by Muriel Spark.
    What a wonderful title...
    The Met's exhibition sounds fabulous and the colours are spectacular, not one LBD to be seen!

    1. I think you would like her books. I also love that title. I recently read "Loitering with Intent" and loved it. I agree with you, not one LBD to be seen, how nice!

  3. The lobster dress is my current obsession!

  4. I can't imagine Wallis Simpson in something as quirky and humorous as the lobster dress. Hopefully the film will make it onto DVD, I'd love to see it.

  5. Going in July and will see the show for sure. Always thought that the "Lobster" dress would be a fabulous wedding dress for Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket.