How to follow last year's record-breaking Savage Beauty Alexander McQueen exhibition? The Met has turned to 'Ugly Chic', surreal style, skeleton dresses, lobsters and torn flesh.
Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations is the title of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute spring 2012 exhibition; launching this week with the annual Met Gala Ball. Featuring 90 designs and 30 accessories by Elsa Schiaparelli spanning the 1920s - 1950s and Miuccia Prada covering the 1980s to the present; the exhibition explores how the two designers subvert our notions of taste, beauty and glamour.
Elsa Schiaparelli, whose fashion house closed in 1954, has been eclipsed in our collective memory by her rival Coco Chanel who dismissed her as 'that Italian artist who makes clothes'. In 2012, though, Schiaparelli is enjoying a popular revival with the help of the Met exhibition and 'The Hunger Games'. One of the biggest hits of the year so far with record takings at the box office, the film heavily references her 1930s haute couture in its Capitol Citizens' costumes. This belated recognition is all good news for Diego della Valle, the chief executive of Tod's, who bought the Schiaparelli brand back in 2007 with plans to relaunch it with a perfume and accessories line. He took the opportunity this week, whilst all fashion eyes are on New York for the exhibition and Gala Benefit, to introduce French actress and model Farida Khelfa as his muse; with a new designer to be announced in September according to the New York Times.
It's somewhat ironic that Schiaparelli's business failed to survive the years of post-war austerity, yet is being relaunched amidst a period of European austerity budgets and economic uncertainty - let's hope this time round the House of Schiaparelli achieves longevity. Although it's clear the designer's influence never really went away - so many conventions of modern fashion were started by Schiaparelli: she was one of the first designers to produce ready-to-wear collections and stage runway shows using music and tall, thin models. Schiaparelli also created the wedge heel; graphic pattern knitwear featuring surrealist trompe l'oeil imagery; the signature colour 'hot pink'; even Jean Paul Gaultier's torso shaped perfume bottle is a modern homage to Schiaparelli's 'Shocking' perfume bottle from the 1930s.
Schiaparelli provoked and scandalised 1930s society - I think if Schiaparelli was still alive she would find a natural affinity with Lady Gaga and Miuccia Prada; her shoe hat and tear dress were equally shocking in their time as Nicola Formichetti's meat dress is today.
Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations runs from May 10 - August 19, 2012 at The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The institute houses a historical collection of thirty-five thousand costumes and accessories and is the home of the Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library, one of the world's foremost fashion libraries. The annual Gala Benefit is the main source of funding for the institute and enjoys heavy support from the fashion industry.
Follow Christine Babington Smith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/glamnet