The Costume Institute’s new exhibition is a happy collision of fashion titans. Decades apart, Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada are joined in a conceit devised by Met curators, Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda: a filmed dialogue, directed by Baz Luhrman, inspired by Louis Malle’s two-hander, Dinner With Andre--only this is two women talking, both Italian and interested in clothes. Hence “Impossible Conversations:” Judy Davis is cast as Schiaparelli and Prada is, well, her self. Their discourse is projected, heard over the mannequins sporting their shoes, dresses, ensembles, and hats. Provocative pairings make for exhibition as theater.
Differences speak to the times: Schiaparelli dressed women for dinner and so emphasized jackets, what’s worn above the waist, adorning with, say, monkey fur. Prada goes for the skirt, embellished in an assortment of mirror shards, spangles, kitchen utensils.
Schiaparelli thought fashion was art. Prada finds that equation impractical for today’s world. Fashion is about selling dresses. And other stuff too: the Met gift shops offer her pricy totes, scarves, lobster and banana earrings in bright red and yellow plastic.
As I traveled past Bergdorf’s on the #4 bus down Fifth Avenue, I saw the Prada decked windows. She might as well have said fashion is about merchandising, branding. This woman speaks what she knows, and does it very well.