x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The parallel lives of two provocative and eccentric designers

Both came to fashion almost by accident (and late compared to most designers) yet Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada's design manifestos draw strong parallels.

Elsa Schiaparelli (left) and Miuccia Prada (right) are featured at
Elsa Schiaparelli (left) and Miuccia Prada (right) are featured at "Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations" exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and its accompanying book. Photos by Hoyningen-Huené /Vogue / Condé Nast; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Guido Harari / Contrasto / Redux

Born in different eras, they never knew each other, never worked together, but the Italian designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada share an affinity that transcends the years that separate them. Both came to fashion almost by accident (and late compared to most designers) yet their design manifestos, commitment to feminism and artful approach to styling - a love of the playful, fanciful, provacative and eccentric - draw strong parallels. Moreover, both succeeded in taking fashion further closer to art; Schiaparelli (who worked in Paris from the 1920s to the 1950s) in her collaborations with the Sureallists Salvador Dalí and Jeanne Cocteau, and Prada (who took over her family firm in 1978) through her support of contemporary artists via the Fondazione Prada.

This parity is the starting point of a major new exhibition at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and an accompanying book: Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations by Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda, a 308-page volume that compiles more than 200 images, some previously unseen, of their respective designs. Interspersed within these full-sized photographs are notes containing imagined conversations and exchanges between the women about their design philosophies and creative approaches, intended to offer new readings on their most important work.

The result is a beautifully presented hardback volume that offers us a remarkable glimpse into the fantastical world of revolutionary fashion and its relationship with art and innovation. Arguably the year's most important book of its genre, it's an essential summer investment.

Dh255, Yale University Press. Available to order via Amazon. Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations runs until August 19. www.metmuseum.org.