On Tuesday, May 15th, I had the pleasure of attending The College Group at the Met's Waist Up/Waist Down: An Evening of Schiaperilli & Prada. The event took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where a variety of events were organized in celebration and discussion of the Costume Institute's lastest exhibition; impossible conversations between two strong, revolutionary, female fashion designers, Elsa Schiaperilli & Miuccia Prada.
The event began with a panel discussion by The Sartorialist's Scott Schuman, The Man Repeller's Leandra Medine, Vogue contributor Lynn Yeager, and Francesca Granata, Assistant Professor of Fashion Studies at The New School. Moderated by fashion consultant, Julie Gilhart, the panel discussed many popular questions in fashion such as "what is chic?" "are magazines becoming less relevant?" and a question that both Schiaperlli and Prada frequently discussed in their work: "What is beautiful?"
For the most part the panelists offered well thought out and intelligent answers to these questions, but there were also many responses I strongly disagreed with, more specifically those provided by "The Sartorialist", Scott Schuman. Schuman took this opportunity, a panel produced for and by college students, to talk about his own personal work, promote himself, and to let all of us know that we're not and will never be as good as he is. " One of the many things I disagreed with him about was his definition of "chic." He defined the term as something that belonged to the elite. He imagined "chic" as Bianca Jagger at Studio 54. She was chic, she was wealthy, she was famous, and her look was unattainable to us. Although Leandra Medine also stated that in the past chic was someone like Jane Birken, it wasn't because she was wealthy or well known, but because of how she carried herself. She could have worn anything and still have been chic. It was the confidence and grace she exuded in every single aspect of her life. Today, anyone can be chic by that definition.
|Rachel Gottlieb at Waist Up/Waist Down: An Evening of Schiaperilli & Prada|
Another thing I disagreed with was Schuman's definition of beauty. The Sartorialist used too display photographs of well dressed individuals in cities throughout the world, but the images Schuman showed at the panel were not of beautifully dressed people, but instead of photographs he had taken and deemed "inspiring". One of these images was of a girl in a hoodie and slippers shyly standing on a sidewalk in Manhattan's East Village. Schuman suggested that this image could inspire designers, that it wasn't necessarily the clothing or the look the girl had but rather how the landscape and subject interacted with each other to create something beautiful. Sure, the quality of the image was superb, but that it could inspire an entire collection was an extreme overstatement. The only thing that was inspiring about this image was how thin the girls legs were. In fact, all of the images that Schuman deemed "inspiring" were of very thin girls in lackluster parts of the city.
After the panel a celebration in the grand entrance of the Met began. I loved seeing all of the numerous well dressed people that attended the event. To me, they were the inspiring ones. Although not many people dressed to theme, my friend and date for the night, Rachel Gottlieb, and I made sure we were. Rachel wore vintage cherry red sequined pants, a white button down shirt, and a beautiful and colorful Schiaperilli hat, a tribute to one of the designers the event was commemorating and perfect for the theme (pictured above). I wore a vintage Balmain dress in the perfect shade of Schiaperilli pink with a white vintage beaded clutch and white open toe heels (pictured left).
The party included a DJ playing fun popular hits, beautiful candle lights, refreshments (Rachel loved the strawberries), drinks and a plethora of well dresses college students, teachers, and fashion industry professionals to discuss the exhibition with. During the party the exhibition was open for us to see and after walking through it I strongly recommend paying it a visit.
Impossible Conversations between Elsa Schiaperilli and Prada was the perfect name for the exhibition. Upon entry a film is displayed of the two designers, Miucia Prada and actress, Judy Davis, playing Elsa Schiaperilli. Davis paraphrases excerpts from Schiaperilli's autobiography, Shocking Life, Prada responds freely and thoughtfully. Along with the film, quotes from both designers are dispersed throughout the space and pieces and images from both of their collections are paired together under similar themes. The curators did such an excellent job of doing this that at times it difficult to tell the difference between the two designers work.
Their imagined conversations as well as their work show the similarities both women shared, but also their differences. Both powerful women and feminists struggled to keep both this power and their femininity. For instance Schiaperilli stated that men respect powerful women, but they do not necessarily love them. Prada responded to this in a similar statement expressing her desire to keep certain female traditions without giving up her authority. One aspect of fashion design the two disagreed on is the idea of fashion as art. Schiaperilli frequently collaborated with surrealist artists of her time, including Salvador Dali, on her creations. She strongly believed that her work was a form of art and went on to say that if she hadn't been a fashion designer she would have become a sculptor. Prada, who frequently utilizes many eccentric materials in her work- such as bottle caps, inexpensive plastic, and industrial nylon believes that fashion is definitely a creative craft, but not necessarily an art form.
A major theme seen in both Schiaperilli and Prada's designs and conceived conversations is their argument against the classical definition of beauty. Schiaperilli explains how she had felt unattractive in her youth and this prompted her into becoming a fashion designer. She was always looking for ways to make her self seem more appealing and that was through her clothing and acessories. Prada does not talk about ever feeling insecure about her looks, but discusses being a young feminist pulled into her family business. Her ultimate goal as a designer is to defeat the cliched concepts of femininity. Both her work and her words even suggest that she loathes slipping into that classical depiction of beauty.
Overall the event and exhibition were both excellent. It is inspiring to see two women create such amazing pieces and build powerful empires. This was also an educational experience, Schiaperilli not being a designer who is frequently talked about, you are able to see how many contributions she gave the fashion industry and how many people her work inspired. As well, both designers never gave up on their concepts, goals, and dreams. They do what they want to do and they don't let anyone stop them. I appreciate strong, powerful, feminists, especially in the fashion industry. The exhibition is open now until August 19th. It is most definitely worth a visit.