The Metropolitan Museum of Art opens "Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations"

Two iconic clothing designers celebrate the female form and unconventional beauty in this survey at the Metropolitan Museum, which also features films by Baz Luhrmann.

  • Photograph: George Hoynignen-Huene

    Elsa Schiaparelli

  • Photograph: Harari Guido

    Miuccia Prada

  • Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    Waist Up/Waist Down Gallery

  • Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    Surreal Body Gallery

  • Photograph: Jessica Lin

    Nocciola at Sant Ambroeus

Photograph: George Hoynignen-Huene

Elsa Schiaparelli

Through August 19, 2012 • 1000 Fifth Ave at 82nd St (212-535-7710, Tue–Thu, Sun 9:30am–5:30pm; Fri, Sat 9:30am–9pm. Suggested donation $25, seniors $17, students $12, members and children under 12 free.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrates Italian clothing designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada in this extensive survey. The exhibit title, “Impossible Conversations,” alludes to the accompanying video segments by director Baz Luhrmann, which use text from Schiaparelli’s biography to stage fictional dialogues with Prada.

RECOMMENDED: Full summer museum exhibit guide


This survey, pairing two iconic Italian designers, gets right down to comparing and contrasting their respective styles and fashion focus with its very first section. “Waist Up/Waist Down” features two rows of detailed skirts, blouses and jackets. The tops are the work of Elsa Schiaparelli, who designed for the women of 1930s café society. (She emphasized the upper body because so many of her clients spent their time sitting down at restaurants.) Miuccia Prada, meanwhile, provided the lower half of this display, crafting feminine skirts that celebrate the female form and sexuality. In a film director Baz Luhrmann created for the exhibit, Schiaparelli (played by actor Judy Davis) says, “We had to be bold from the waist up. Up with the shoulders! Celebrate the bust!” To see her point reflected, look closely at Schiaparelli’s 1937 blazer, and Prada’s skirt from 2005’s spring-summer collection.

As a child, Schiaparelli was told by her mother that she was ugly, and that her sister was beautiful. So the future designer placed seeds in her ears and nose, hoping to sprout flowers that would make her more stylish. The fine line separating unattractive from attractive is the focus of “Ugly Chic,” which explains how both designers used unconventional materials—such as cellophane, bark and glass—and geometric shapes to create garments that subvert the idea of beauty. “All my life is working against the cliché of beauty, probably,” says Prada in this section’s corresponding film. That idea is further expressed in Schiaparelli’s geometric printed skirt suit (1938), and pieces from Prada’s fall-winter ’96 collection.

Head to the back of the exhibit for the final section, “Surreal Body,” which showcases how both designers were influenced by Surrealist practices. Schiaparelli collaborated with Salvador Dalí to create the “shoe hat,” seen in a 1937 photo from the French magazine L’Officiel. “The greatest thrill[s] of my career [are] the things I did with Dalí!” Schiaparelli says in the film. “Lobster dresses, skeleton dresses, shoe hats, desk suits…” Nearby, peep Prada’s strapless cocktail dress featuring embroidered kitchen utensils.

Also check out

Before hitting the Met store and browsing Prada souvenirs such as a Christmas ornament version of the 2012 flame shoe ($30) and an Impossible Conversations coffee-table book ($45) featuring works from the exhibit, take a peek at a few baubles from the mid-19th-century: In the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts gallery on the museum’s first floor, you’ll find a gold, agate, pearl and glass-enamel diadem (ornamental headband), as well as an agate-and-gold brooch and a necklace with a satyr’s-head pendant.

Go here afterward

Sant Ambroeus

  • Price band: 4/4

Now that you’re educated about Italian style, treat yourself to a taste of the culture with a piece of layer cake made with hazelnut sponge, butter cream and caramelized salted almonds ($8–$10.50) from Sant Ambroeus. Pair it with a dessert wine ($9–$12) or espresso ($3.75–$5.50). • 212-570-2211,

  1. 1000 Madison Ave, (at 77th St ), 10014-32
Book online