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Schiaparelli and Prada

June 24, 2012

Two powerful women, two different periods in time, two opposite opinions and one thing that connects them both… FASHION.

I can’t even describe how intrigued and curious I was to go and see this highly anticipated fashion exhibition at New York’s MET. So the day it opened the doors (well, a day later) I was there, excited and prepared to answer all the questions I had about this exhibition!

Obviously I had to do a bit of reading about these women before-hand, I guess I was seeking some fashion answers to my fashion questions? Not only did I find none, the research generated even more questions and my curiosity deepened.

Here were the questions I had, just to demonstrate my confusion… I guess I had my own internal ‘impossible conversations’, do not judge though, Prada is having conversations with Schiaparelli who’s dead:

1- Can chic be ugly? One of the categories is ‘ugly chic’ and to me chic means stylish, elegant and fashionable at the same time, how can stylish be ugly?

2- Is it fair to compare and categorize the work of two women who were born six decades apart and lived in completely and extremely different environments?

3- What did these women have in common apart from this exhibition and being Italian? If they had lived in the same time would they be friends?

4- What has changed in fashion since Elsa Schiaparelli’s hey days and Miuccia Prada days?

5- What and who is Prada? I can recognize Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Alexander McQueen aesthetics each season, even-though they bring something very new I can still see the brand in it. I can never recognize Prada. How come?

You see, my head was a mess with way too many questions. Thankfully this exhibition provided a lot of answers, here is what I learned:

1- I learned that both of these designers like to question ‘what is chic’, and take provocative risks. Prada looks for anti cliche beauty and challenges chic with unexpected patterns, use of industrial materials and by creating and designing service uniforms. I think she even said once that she, “has to forget about her good taste in order to see different things, ugly things, where the beauty lies as well”.

So even-though ugly chic isn’t my cup of tea and I do not see myself wearing dark uniforms with belts or the straight necks that Schiaparelli created in Russia, I definitely understand and appreciate the idea of a different creative approach.

So YES, I think chic can be ugly. Chic can be provocative, different and dark as well. At the end it’s fashion and that’s all about an unexpected and diverse creative attitude.

2- No, not fair at all, but it’s interesting. The quotes from Schiaparelli’s autobiography called ‘The Shocking Life’ were used and included in the screen play, where Schiaparelli is played by an actress. Prada sits on the opposite side of the table and reacts to Schiaparelli’s quotes in a short film directed by Baz Luhrmann that’s being projected at the exhibition. It is UNFAIR, of course, as Schiaparelli cannot fight back.

At the same time though it makes you open your eyes and look at Schiaparelli, a designer you placed in the past and somehow distant fashion history, with fresh eyes and with today’s fashion point of view!

3- By categorizing and putting together these women’s work (which I wasn’t sure about in the beginning) I realized how modern Schiaparelli’s designs were. ‘The Lobster dress’ being one of the modern pieces I loved, I also admired her jacket with buttons depicting acrobats or her crazy hat with bees. How brave and different she was for her time and that’s exactly how I see Miuccia Prada now.

An approach that is modern, different and empowering to women, is what Prada and Schiaparelli have in common.

On the other hand, their opinion about fashion couldn’t be more different…

Is fashion ART?”, they are both asked in the film.

Even- though I agree with Prada that fashion is not art as there are too many opinions involved and it is what it is, a business. Schiaparelli’s saying- “if I wasn’t fashion designer I would be a sculptor” is so charming in a way and that’s how I would like to look at it as well (I guess I am just too skeptical), but calling herself an artist is totally understandable. Who would’t call themselves that, if working with the likes of Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau.

At one point Schiaparelli asks Prada “If we lived in the same time, would we be friends?” Prada replies: “I think we would be friends!”, I wonder how much she was lying?

4- Even-though fashion has always been a big business, it seems there are way too many people involved these days and I believe today designers have to worry more about what sells and how to make investors happy. It must be very hard to be creative in this environment, I myself find it very impressive when someone succeeds.

5- I feel like I got to know Miuccia Prada much more. I never understood her really, it’s hard to see where she’s coming from with each season. I feel Prada as a brand changes it’s face every season more so than any other designers, she even confirmed it. Does that mean it’s wrong? It’s just a different approach.

The other day I was at Bergdorf Goodman (all their windows are dedicated to this exhibition by the way, check them out), I checked Prada and Miu Miu collections and was able to look at it differently. Prada challenges women, she likes to play with women’s imagination with things like faking pleats by printing them on the fabric in one of her collections. She likes to concentrate on the bottom half, that’s where her canvas is, that’s the interesting part for her, “where the sex is”, as she says, she doesn’t pretend she’s doing art or science. Her collection included miniature kitchen utensils on dresses, all the fashion critics where trying to find hidden interpretations and meanings to it. When asked later, she said she, “just liked the way it looked”, simple as that, no science.

She has a great influence on you. She comes across as very strong and opinionated, she thinks women should dress for themselves and should have fun with it. I came away encouraged to do that, genuine girl power!

Check my photos from this incredible exhibition in case you don’t get a chance to see it, but if you find yourself in NYC before August 19, you should definitely go along!


That reminds me, if you guys have any questions, just shoot, it would be lovely to have some conversations on a virtual channel!

Adela x



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