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Actress Carey Mulligan
Actress Carey Mulligan in Prada at the Toronto International Film Festival, September 2010, photo by Getty Images (left), and a 1940 hat designed by Elsa Schiaparelli from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

SCHIAPARELLI & PRADA AT THE MET COSTUME INSTITUTE

Oct. 14, 2011

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Doesn’t the Metropolitan Museum of Art know that the devil wears Prada? Or maybe that's the idea. The Met's super-chic Costume Institute has doubled down for its 2012 exhibition, focusing on two designers rather than the traditional one, Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) and Miuccia Prada (b. 1949).

Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada: On Fashion,” May 10-Aug. 19, 2012 -- which supposedly takes its title from Umberto Eco’s esthetic treatises, On Beauty and On Ugliness -- presents 80 designs in all, with Schiaparelli representing the first half of the 20th century and Prada the second. The show is slated to include as well a series of videos of “simulated conversations” between the two designers, categorized by topics like “On Art,” “On Politics” and “On Women.”

Sponsored by Amazon and Condé Nast, the exhibition is organized by curator Harold Koda and Costume Institute head Andrew Bolton. But the special oomph for the show -- over-the-top Costume Institute installations have been the thing even before "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty" -- is provided in 2012 by Australian film director and screenwriter Baz Luhrmann. Both loved and hated for his artsy approach in musical hybrids like Moulin Rouge! (2001) and the 2009 Academy Awards, Luhrman is also in charge of designing the annually star-studded Costume Gala Institute Gala Benefit on May 7, 2012 -- so expect a lot of color.

This year’s honorary chair for the gala is Jeff Bezos, the 47-year-old billionaire founder and CEO of Amazon.com (Forbes put his fortune at $19.1 billion just last month), whose track record in art philanthropy has been modest (till now, let's hope). His co-chairs include Anna Wintour, a regular at the job, and Muccia Prada herself, who founded her own art foundation in Milan several years ago.

Last but not least is 26-year-old co-chair Carey Mulligan, celebrity society’s new toast. The ingenue, who has starred recently in Drive alongside hearthrob Ryan Gosling, and An Education, which earned her a nomination as best actress for a 2009 Academy Award, is currently working with Luhrmann on his remake of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby -- and she apparently wears a lot of Prada. Presumably her presence at the Met is due to her interest in fashion, and her director's influence, rather than because of any budding fine art interests.

As for the exhibition, it compares and contrasts the two female Italian designers. Schiaparelli, the Paris-based designer associated with Surrealism -- known for iconic pieces like the insect necklace and the shoe hat (currently on view in “Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones” at the Bard Graduate Center) -- was the subject of the exhibition “Shocking” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2003. Many of the Schiaparelli costumes in the exhibition are drawn from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection, which the Met took over a few years ago (to some controversy).

The Milan-based Prada on the other hand, who has become a household name, holds a PhD in political science and focuses on fashion that “reflects the eclectic nature of Postmodernism.”

The show is accompanied by a catalogue, published by the Met and Yale University Press.

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