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Get to the Met: Previewing Impossible Conversations with Prada and Schiap

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You know Frank—he's been writing about menswear, sales, television, new shops, the recession, Lisa Loeb, the Golden Girls and getting blasted for Racked for over two years. Well, we think it's time you got to know him and his quirky-irreverent views on life and fashion even better with his column: Love, Frank. Taking the form of an open letter and always signed with love, Frank will rant about whatever style-related conundrum he encounters in a given week. So buckle your two-toned leather Moschino belts, folks, it's going to be ? Something.

Dear Potential Exhibit Goers,

Monday night's Costume Institute's Met Gala wasn't just another opportunity for celebrities of fashion and fashionable celebrities to walk down a red carpet and wear Prada (or Miu Miu)—it was in celebration of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's 2012 Costume Institute exhibit “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations.”

The exhibit, running through August 19th, imagines Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada as contemporaries at a dinner table; despite the fact that at least a generation separates the two Italian-born designers. Schiaparelli passed away in 1973—the bulk of her work featured in the exhibit is from the 1930s—and her name recognition amongst even those of you fairly well versed in fashion history or surrealist art is probably quite limited. Prada, however, needs no introduction. My dad could tell you about Prada. My dog—if I had a dog—could tell you about Prada.

But, I digress—the exhibit imagines these two free-spirited, trail-blazing ladies at a dinner table. Quite literally, actually: Director Baz Luhrman filmed it—Prada plays herself and actress Judy Davis, bow at the neck, plays Schiaparelli. The two sit face to face at a baroque looking dining table chattering, debating, agreeing to disagree—even having a few shade-throwing, eye rolling moments of hard pause. It sounds corny—I was dreading it—but it's charming and whimsical and rife with verbal gems. These women are characters.

(But how could they not be? You've seen their clothes.)

The video, monumentally projected throughout, is a back drop for the clothing. Set up in vignettes, the overall effect is bookish and a little scholarly, drawing—and sometimes forcing—thematic parallels between the two. In a way, it almost seems like a beautiful, elaborate term paper—thesis statement turned reality via jacquard dresses and really crazy shoes.

This is not to say the exhibit isn't a blast—it's fascinating, chock full of gorgeous things, riddled with a series of memorable quotes from both designers (my favorite, from Prada: "I often employ colors that many people might consider ugly, such as brown. Brown is a color that no one likes, so, of course, I like it because it's difficult and unappealing."); the types of art-splattered, aesthetically-minded, not-totally-of-reality bon mots you're familiar with if you've ever worked under a creative director.

The exhibit opens into a hall of shoes and hats; skirts and jackets. That impossible conversation notes, along with a plethora of educational verbiage, that Schiaparelli often focused on the waist up—for seated women; while Prada was more nether-focused. You know, being earthy and hippie-ish and floral.

So, the hats (and neckwear)—for which Schiaparelli is most famous—juxtapose Prada's obsession-inducing, highly coveted, monster profit-driving shoes. And the skirts, all by Prada, contrast (or, rather, coordinate with) Schiaparelli's embellished jackets and tops. Here you'll spot both designer's most famous pieces: Schiap's inverted shoe hat; Prada's creeper-espadrille-wingtip; along with the hot rod shoes from right now; and some foulard-flower embellished platform clunkers you'll never forget.

In the next space you'll see clusters of looks arranged by overarching theme. One area is all about that sort of darkly-chic, minimalism that no longer characterizes the work Prada sends down the runway but remains a hallmark of what Prada stands for. Funerary items—black, severe, minimalist, impossibly chic—that are the polar opposite of the vignettes that follow in the rest of the exhibition. Another, called "Naif Chic," features childish looks for grown women (with expensive taste). Here you'll find four full looks from Prada's blockbuster Spring '11 collection—printed bananas, candy stripes, embroidered monkeys, all festooning what are, frankly, cotton (but really nice cotton) hospital smocks. Elsewhere, vignettes feature ethnicism, decadence (Prada: "I struggle constantly with my decadent tendencies."), provincialism, craftsmanship, and the celebration of all things ugly.

Throughout, it's surprising how well the two designers' work melds. More than once, looks I assumed must be Schiaparelli turned out to be Prada—proving Schiap's relevance, or at least a shared design DNA between the two. In fact, much of it just seems singularly Prada. For example: An intarsia sweater with a knit-in necktie motif. How couldn't that be Prada? Well—that one's actually Schiaparelli.

The final area is a meandering hall of fun house mirrors that I can imagine being a bit terrifying when extremely packed (as it likely will be). It's dark, every surface is reflective, and looks (mostly Prada's) set in glass boxes juxtapose backlit photographed ensembles (mostly Schiaparelli's). Here you'll see how both designers employed faux fur and animal prints; how both used fringe; how both enjoy lip and lipstick motifs. You'll also—if you look closely enough—notice that each illuminated photograph features some subtle bit of animation. A billowing bit of fringe; a flirtatiously blinking eye. It's weird, but it works. And the same can be said for Schiaparelli's oddest, most surreal pieces; including that famous, crazy lobster plunked on that soft, billowing white gown. I only wish the dress was actually there—there's only a photo on offer.

So that's the gist. It's amazing. I wish it was bigger. You exit through the gift shop—and you'll be buying the hot rod heel tree ornament.

It's not like you can afford the real one.

· Love, Frank [Racked]