Sunday, July 29, 2012

Schiaparelli & Prada: The Art of Successful Mismatch

I finally got over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see this year’s fashion exhibition, “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations.” The Met’s annual fashion exhibitions have been a highlight of my summer for many years. The exhibits always give me a new perspective on fashion, and, yes, even a few tips on creating my own over 50 style. But after all the hubbub and long lines associated with last year’s “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” show, I was a bit nervous. Happily, I got to this year's exhibit before noontime and found it wasn’t jammed with visitors. To continue reading, click “read more” below…

The exhibit places the two designers’ fashions side by side in themed displays with titles like “Ugly Chic,” the “Exotic Body” and the “Surreal Body.” I was prepared for the exhibition to emphasize the striking aesthetic differences between the two designers. Elsa Schiaparelli is known for her elegant designs, while Miuccia Prada has said she strives to “make ugly chic.” And while both women design women's fashion, Schiaparelli's creations focused on the upper half of the female form, while Prada has said she's more interested in what women wear from the waist down. Surprisingly, however, the two designers’ fashions seemed to complement each other. Their mismatch of taste and focus creates what I consider a dream wardrobe--one with plenty of style plus a healthy dose of variety and contradiction. (What woman over 50 wants to be predictable? Not me!)

One of the fashion trends I love most right now is the subtle pairing of garments with different colors, textures and patterns. My two favorite outfits in the Schiaparelli-Prada exhibit were successful mismatches. In one, a long, thigh-length sheer top was draped over a wool  straight skirt. The other outfit consisted of a wooly sweater paired with a chiffon skirt. I find avoiding the traditional pairings of say, a solid top with a print skirt, or matching colors or textures, delightfully edgy and refreshing. My 2012 New Year’s fashion resolution was to find new pairings of tops in bottoms in my closet. The process was very liberating. But I digress.

A videoclip of the women designers ‘conversing’ with each other loops on the white wall behind each group of clothing in the exhibit. The designers discuss their personal histories, design process, and views on women and fashion. The actress Judy Davis plays Schiaprelli, who died in 1973. The imaginary conversation is based on Schiaparelli’s memoir and an interview with Prada. I always love hearing artists talk about their creative process, so I enjoyed this aspect of the exhibit. Interestingly, Prada doesn’t consider fashion design an art form. I respect her desire not to make what she does more important than it is. But fashion is art in my book.

I went to the current exhibit as well as the McQueen exhibit with my son, a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He said he liked the McQueen designs better than the Schiaparelli and Prada designs. By and large, the McQueen designs were over the top—rebellious and not particularly functional. I understand why that would appeal to a young man. But this old lady preferred the women designers. Both women have dabbled in the whimsical—Schiaparelli with her famous hat that looks like a high heel and Prada with her Flash Gordon-styled shoes. However, the vast majority of the fashions on exhibit were classic, functional designs with lively elements—embroidery, colors, prints and embellishments—that made them unique and energized. Just what I’m looking for these days.

“Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations” is on view at the Metropolitan Museum in New York until August 19th. If you can't get to the city, you can view a lot of the exhibit's fashions at the museum’s website.