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In the latest issue of the New Yorker, critic Judith Thurman writes an extensive article on the relationship between the late Elsa Schiaparelli and the very much alive Miuccia Prada, who are drawn together by the upcoming show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute. The two never met and were designing for women fifty years apart, but their impact on the industry in their respective heydays has been total. Also, and more importantly to Thurman, they're both known for an "ugly chic" style with a feminist twist. It's a predictably dense read, but we've collected some of the most enlightening quotes from the article to help you parse the exhibit, which opens in May. Ready? Here we go:
Thurman on Prada's aesthetic: "Only in the dressing room do you discover that her ostensibly proper little pleated skirts, ladylike silk blouses, and lace dinner suits are a test of your cool. If you can’t wear them tongue-in-cheek, as Prada herself does—thumbing her crooked nose at received ideas about beauty and sex appeal—they can make you look like a governess."
On Schiaparelli and Prada's style: "They don’t really care what makes a woman desirable to men. Their work asks you to consider what makes a woman desirable to herself."
On how the two designers would feel about the comparison at the Met: "It is doubtful that the notoriously touchy Schiaparelli would have been happy about sharing a double bill, even with such an illustrious compatriot, or that Prada would have submitted to comparison with a contemporary. She is widely considered the most influential designer in the world today partly because her enigmatic code is so hard to copy: she changes the password every season."
Prada on launching womenswear: "I often think that to be a fashion designer, you must give up your brain."
Thurman on Prada's "ugly" sensibilities: In 1999, she showed a Teflon wool hiking skirt. “Brown is a color that no one likes,” she told Bolton [the exhibit's curator], “so of course I like it because it’s difficult.” She has often said that when she hates something herself—crochet, for example—she works out her antipathy in a collection: it gives her the space “to be intrigued.” (She also hates golf, apparently—a theme of her June menswear.) Last year, she designed a collection, in cheap cotton, inspired by hospital scrubs. “If I have done anything,” she told British Vogue, “it was making ugly cool.”
On Schiaparelli's firsts in fashion: "Her radical experiments with fabrication produced paper and plastic clothes, fantasy furs, Plexiglas accessories, camouflage prints, and barklike crumpled silks. In 1935, she became the first designer to stage a fashion show as entertainment, with a set, music, and the skinny models who quickly supplanted all other native species."
Prada on dressing sexy: “I have nothing against super-sexual fashion. What I am against is being a victim of it,” she has said. “To have to be sexy? That I hate. To be outrageously sexy? That I love.”
Prada on dressing prim: “I’m always happiest when dressed almost like a nun,” Prada says. “It makes you feel so relaxed.”
On beauty: "It isn’t that Prada undervalues beauty’s power—both she and Schiaparelli have dozens of ravishing ensembles in the show. But the old radical, you suspect, resents it as an unearned asset of the one per cent, and the brainy feminist wants you to understand its pathos as a love charm doomed to expire. You shouldn’t need it if you love yourself."
· Radical Chic [The New Yorker]
· Miuccia Prada Not Thrilled About Sharing the MET Spotlight [Racked NY]
· All Prada Coverage [Racked]