5 Tantalizing Hints About the Met’s Upcoming Schiaparelli and Prada Show

Detail of the “Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations” book cover
(Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The 216-page catalogue of the upcoming Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute exhibition “Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations” just landed on our desks at ARTINFO. Since those who are closely involved with the show – like director Baz Luhrman, who is making a film inspired by its concept — are not divulging any details, we naturally began flipping through the tome to search for clues. While we weren’t able to determine if the show will have the theatrics or special effects of past Costume Institute productions, the book did shed light on Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada’s commonalities, from the jolie-laide quirk the two share to their affinity for the surreal. A thoughtful preview, the catalogue pages offer an insightful look at the exhibition, which opens to the public on May 10. Here’s our take on what to expect:

1. The Show Will Consist of Seven Sections: The book is divided into seven parts, obviously correlating with the sections of the installation. In case you were wondering, the titles are: “Waist Up/Waist Down,” “Ugly Chic,” “Hard Chic,” “Naïf Chic,” “The Classical Body,” “The Exotic Body,” and “The Surreal Body.”

2. Similar Style Garments by Each Designer Will Be Displayed Together: While we’ve known this would happen since the show’s announcement last October, the tome clues us in on which pieces have been selected. For instance, an image of a model in a fall/winter 2004 Prada blazer with rhinestone embellishments on the breast pockets is laid out next to a black-and-white Vogue photograph of a model wearing a fall 1938 Schiaparelli Mandarin-collar jacket with similar adornments on the pocket. Another example is a fall/winter 1996 color-block Prada sweater, which is partnered with a black-and-white image of a Schiaparelli sweater from the February 1927 issue of Paris Vogue.

3. There Will Be Lots of Fashion Photography: The catalogue features photographs by greats of the past like Man Ray and Cecil Beaton, and those by contemporary talents like David Sims and Toby McFarlan. Will the images accompany mannequins donning the actual ensembles, or will they stand alone? We presume it will be a mix, considering there are approximately 200 pictures (a good portion were detail shots of a featured piece), while only about 80 creations will be displayed.

4. Conversations Galore: Since the title of the show is “Impossible Conversations,” we assumed that Prada and Schiaparelli would be involved in some made-up dialogue. Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton, curators at the Costume Institute, said there would be simulated video discussions between the two women. We hope there will be headphones for more intimate eavesdropping. Additionally, tête-à-tête style conversations between Prada and Schiaparelli are sprinkled throughout the book. Here’s an excerpt of their “talk” on Salvador Dalí:

“ES: Dalí was a constant caller. We devised together the coat with many drawers from one of his famous pictures. The black hat in the form of a shoe with a shocking velvet heel standing up like a small column was another innovation...

MP: These collaborations with Dalí have been probably the only real artist-designer relationships. Many critics have said that my spring 2000 collection, which included prints of lips and hearts, referenced these surrealistic fashions. In truth, it referenced Yves Saint Laurent...”

5. Star Power: An April 1937 Harper’s Bazaar photo of Diana Vreeland, an October 1936 portrait of Marlene Dietrich in British Vogue, and a June 1937 Vogue image of Wallis Simpson illustrate some of the bold names of yesteryear who favored Schiaparelli’s designs, outshining models Daphne Groeneveld and Kate Upton, who wear the Prada pieces.

Click on the slide show to see highlights from the catalogue of “Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations,” available from Yale University Press.