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First Looks: ‘Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations’ at the Met Costume Institute

You might think that fictional conversations between Miuccia Prada (who is, of course, very much alive) and the late Elsa Schiaparelli (played by actress Judy Davis) would be a bit weird —  and you'd be right. When we entered the Costume Institute's new exhibit, "Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations," for a press preview this morning, we encountered a large screen that shows the two designers seated at opposite ends of a long table, each drinking prosecco from crystal goblets. It was surreal and bizarre, particularly since the two women seem to be talking at each other (or to themselves) rather than to each other. But the videos certainly look beautiful — playing in sharp resolution against the walls, almost like moving paintings — and helped to enliven the otherwise static show.

Perhaps more interesting than Prada and Schiaparelli's chattering are the quotes from both designers sprinkled among the displays. Many of Schiaparelli's quotes were taken directly from her autobiography, Shocking Life, which was first published in 1954. Prada's quotes were culled from interviews done by the show's co-curator, Andrew Bolton. Here are some good ones:

Prada: I’m told that the women who wear my clothes vary dramatically. Of course, I’d hope that they were clever and interesting. I’d also hope that my clothes made their lives a little easier, that they made them feel happier. Not more beautiful necessarily, just more of a person. I try to make women feel more powerful without losing their femininity.

Schiaparelli: [I feel] that clothes [have] to be architectural: that the body must never be forgotten and it must be used as a frame is used in a building … The more the body is respected, the better the dress acquires vitality … The Greeks … understood this rule, and gave to their goddesses … the serenity of perfection and the fabulous appearance of freedom.

Prada: Women always try to tame themselves as they get older, but the ones who look best are often a bit wilder. Thinking about age all the time is the biggest prison women can make for themselves.

As for the clothes themselves: Prada–lovers won't be disappointed by this exhibit. One of the first galleries contains a whole wall full of Prada shoes — including the Cadillac heels from the spring 2012 collection — displayed next to Schiaparelli's fabulous hat designs. Meanwhile, the antique Schiaparelli pieces have been meticulously preserved and look just as fresh and vibrant as last year's Prada dresses. In some cases, old photographs of Schiaparelli's dresses must substitute for the garments themselves, but the images are large, glowing, and rendered lifelike by GIF technology that allows the women in them to blink occasionally, Hogwarts–style.

As previously reported, the show is broken down into several categories that both designers have explored in their work — see our slideshow for a preview, plus captions from the galleries. The exhibit opens to the public this Thursday, May 10.

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