One of my souvenirs of my NYC trip was this book from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The book is the companion to the exhibition of the same name that was held last summer at the Met’s Costume Institute. Impossible Conversations was about the similarities and the differences of the two Italian designers, and by most accounts, the show was not a roaring success. There were a series of themes, and for each a film was shown. An actress portraying Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada herself sat on opposite ends of a table “discussing” each topic. I did not see the show, but many reviewers found it to be a bit weird, and definitely contrived. I have watched Youtube bits, and they do come off as a bit awkward.
At any rate, after the Alexander McQueen blockbuster of 2011, it must have been a great disappointment for the Costume Institute. The attendance was much less than expected, with hardly a line at most times, which was great for people who love to go and think about what is being presented. When I was there last week, the museum store had huge stacks of the companion book which had been reduced to $10. Oddly enough, the book is priced at $40.50 on the Met website, so if you are in the New York City area, I suggest you drop in to pick up a copy.
The book is also divided into the themes of the show, but instead of the impossible conversations, there are appropriate passages from Schiaparelli’s Shocking Life and from interviews with Miuccia Prada. You really don’t get the feel of an actual conversation, which eliminates some of the criticism of the exhibition. The book is well laid out, with the words of the designers being printed on little inserted pages. The photographs are stunning, especially of the Prada clothing. One thing that bothered me is that most of the Schiaparelli garments are shown in vintage black and white photos. I would have preferred more colored modern photos of the clothes, but I can see that the purpose was to let the reader see the garments as they were actually worn.
You were often shown a detail in color, along with a vintage photo of the same garment.
It was the detail shots that really brought the clothes to life. I’ve seen dozens of photos of the Prada dress on the left, but a close up shot shows the richness of the fabric and the embroidery.
To me, one the most interesting parts of the book was a discussion about Surrealism. Schiaparelli, of course, embraced the label, but Prada insisted that she was not influenced by it, nor by Schiaparelli’s work. Even her 2000 spring collection which included prints of lips and hearts was, she said, referencing Yves Saint Laurent. The print on the cover of the book was actually from that collection, but it sure looks Schiap-inspired to me.
So, who says you can’t find a bargain in the city?
I also want to say a few words about the Met and the Costume Institute. Am I the only person who thinks it is ridiculous that they have only one fashion exhibition a year, and that it is on display for a few short months? The website says that it is due to the sensitive nature of textiles that items from the collection are rarely on view, but with over 35,000 objects, each could be on display only once every 50 years or so! And now that the Costume Institute has possession of the fashion collection from the Brooklyn Museum, most of it will never again be on view.
It is great that so much of the collection of the Costume Institute is available to view online, but it just is not the same as seeing the object in person. It really makes me appreciate the efforts of Kent State, The Mint Museum in Charlotte, and The Charleston Museum, who always have fashions and textiles on view.