|Waist Up/Waist Down gallery, featuring jackets by Schiaparelli and skirts by Prada. courtesy Met Museum
|Prada, 2005. Photo: Toby McFarlan Pond,
courtesy Met Mus
Schiaparelli specialized in the evening jacket, something that seems ripe for re-emergence. (Why shouldn't women be warm in cold weather? Oh, right, that would mean comfortable. Can't have that.) The jackets are usually dark, fitted, with padded shoulders to emphasize the waist, and often decorated with embroidery, elaborate buttons, or appliqued bits of whimsy, relating them conveniently to Prada's own svelte, embellished skirts.
The collection is divided into themes: hard, naif, classical, exotic, surreal. In this latter category, Schiap had the upper hand, actually collaborating with Dali on their famous shoe headpiece. And despite the convenience of having actual Surrealists in her phone book, she made wearable, timeless classics that could still be in production. The way they flatter the female form without being shameless contrasts with Prada's tendency to follow a schoolgirl's uniform's silhouette, with the focal point nearly always a knee-length A-line skirt which sits atop the hipbone. She pairs these slender lines with clunky loafers for a very different kind of timelessness.
The exhibit culminates in a "hall of mirrors" room with plexiglass display cases, achieving the presumed goals of disorientation and making the space seem larger than it is. Each case holds a pair of outfits, one by each designer, plus a photo of Schiaparelli and a peer's artistic influence. It all combines with the beyond-the-grave dialogue enactments for a carnivalesque setting. And it's somewhat in tension with the clothing designs that are radical for being sumptuous, dignified, and ultimately extremely practical in a field that prides itself on objectifying and hobbling women in the name of freedom of choice. Now that's revolutionary.