In talk: Schiaparelli and Prada

Studying design history at university, fashion never seemed to have the same gravitas as other disciplines in the field – it often felt shallow, a little silly perhaps. That was until we were introduced to the work and life of Elsa Schiaparelli.

The avant-garde Italian designer, best known for the work she did between the world wars, is something of a legend in the creative world. Her surrealist creations, many of which were done in collaboration with the likes of Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau, go way beyond the confines of fashion design – they are wearable works of art. As a character she also intrigued with her non-conformist attitude to life and work.

This spring, the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art sets out to explore the affinities in work and life between Schiaparelli and her more contemporary fellow Italian Miuccia Prada.

Although born six decades apart, what they share is a passion for creating cloths that make women desirable for themselves rather than to men. This could possibly be the result of a relatively late start in fashion (Schiaparelli was 37 and Prada 39), possessing the kind of confidence you gain from an upper crust upbringing, and a result of their feminist leanings.

The result was and is, in the case of Prada, collections that challenge our ideas of beauty, of sexiness, or what is chic, what is right to wear and with what. It makes for timeless fashion and inevitably sets them up as icons in this field.

Organised by the MET’s Costume Institute, Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations was inspired by Miguel Covarrubias’s ‘Impossible Interviews’ series for Vanity Fair in the 1930s. Curators Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton will orchestrate conversations between these iconic women to suggest new readings of their most innovative work.

The seven categories in which the work of the two designers is explored include ‘ugly chic’ (a term many critics associate with Prada), ‘hard chic’ and ‘the surreal body’. The exhibitions that include cloths from Schiaparelli’s couture collections and Prada’s ready-to-wear are juxtaposed with quotes from the two.

‘Given the role surrealism and other art movements play in the designs of both Schiaparelli and Prada, it seems only fitting that their inventive creations be explored here at the Met,’ says Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the MET.

‘Schiaparelli’s collaborations with Dali and Cocteau as well as Prada’s Fondazione Prada push art and fashion ever closer, in a direct, synergistic, and culturally redefining relationship.’

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

The Museum’s website will feature the exhibition here.

Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations is on at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art from 10 May – 19 August 2012.

This is a great article that appeared in the New Yorker last week Radical Chic which explores the world Schiaparelli and Prada further.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | | Bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

 All rights and labelled images are covered by