“Really Impossible Conversations”

Valentino Garavani & Miuccia Prada
Photos: Patrick Demarchelier & vogue.com

The fashion community is finally acting like one! Thanks to technology, virtual face-to-face conversations are now possible. Most of us will never be invited to the Met Gala, but Anna Wintour invited everyone to join “Vogue Global Conversations,” which launched on Tuesday. This week, Miuccia Prada inaugurated “Possible Conversations,” a series of live dialogues between thinkers, cultural arbiters, and fashion figures across the world.

I was reminded of “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations.” The Met’s spring 2012 exhibition examined the striking affinities between these women in the form of a conversation. Baz Luhrmann taped interviews with Ms. Prada and, separately, with actress Judy Davis playing Schiaparelli. The Australian filmmaker then joined them so we could see the two women talking to each other across a long table, first at the beginning of the show, and several times throughout. Many of the pair’s trademark quotes were blown up and emblazoned on the walls displayed next to their fashions.

Miuccia admitted Schiap’s work never inspired her, and they did not necessarily see eye to eye on everything, but there are many uncanny points of similarity between the two. One commonality which played throughout the exhibit is how they both used fashion as a vehicle to challenge typical conventions of taste, beauty, glamour, and femininity, and to provoke.

I thought it would be more interesting to put together two designers whose philosophies were entirely at odds with one another. I used a signature quote and a design from each pair to illustrate the fashion “Odd Couples” that make for REALLY “Impossible Conversations.”

Left: Valentino Sala Bianca 945 Collection 2014; Right: Prada Fall 2019 Ready-to-Wear
Photos: Vogue.com

Valentino Garavani: “I know what women want. They want to be beautiful” AND Miuccia Prada:” If I’ve done anything, it’s to make ugly appealing. In fact, most of my work is concerned with destroying, – or at least deconstructing- conventional ideas of beauty, of the genetic appeal of the beautiful, glamorous bourgeois woman. Fashion fosters cliches of beauty, but I want to tear them apart.”

Left: Cher wearing Bob Mackie to the 1986 Oscars; Right: Saint Laurent high rise jeans
Photos: chernews.blogspot.com & net-a-porter.com

Bob Mackie: “We live in a jeans and T-shirt world, but we all want to live in a palace. We’re not trying to attract the masses here. We’re looking for a special person who’s looking for something special.” AND Yves Saint Laurent: “I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans: the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, and simplicity – all I hope for in my clothes”.

Left: Arnold Scaasi 1983 evening ensemble; Right: Ralph Lauren Fall 2018 Ready-to-Wear
Photos: Metmuseum.com & Vogue.com

Arnold Scaasi: “My idea of sportswear was a sable lined coat” AND Ralph Lauren: “People ask how can a Jewish kid from the Bronx do preppy clothes? Does it have to do with class and money? It has to do with dreams.”

Left: Vicki Tiel jersey and lace dress 80’s; Right: Gucci Fall 2019 Ready-to-Wear
Photos 1stdibs & vogue.com

Vicki Tiel: I have a man, and I dress like this to show other women how to get one. The strapless gowns, this outfit: they’re me, it is what I am all about. The whole point of my clothes is to make a woman’s body look beautiful.” AND Alessandro Michele: Some women are forced by men to look a certain way to be accepted by the general public, and I find that terrible.”

Left: Jeremy Scott Spring 2020 Ready-to-Wear; Right: RR331 Fall Couture 2019
Photos: Vogue.com

Jeremy Scott: “I think that fashion is super serious and humor is suspect, and people don’t always know how to approach it. Sometimes people have questioned whether I was making fun of the industry or just at myself. I’m just trying to raise a smile. Clothes aren’t meant to be worshipped at a church altar. I have a different approach to most designers.” AND Ralph Rucci: I’m a very spiritual man,” “When you hear me say the word God, I say it for a very specific, life-lived reason. Perseverance and resilience are key. I also try to remain true to my vision. The idea is to create go-to pieces for a woman’s wardrobe and her life—beautifully crafted pieces that a woman will love today, in two months, in two years, in five years—and to do that for as many women as possible.”

Left: Christian Lacroix Spring 1988 Couture vogue.com; Right: Vera Wang Fall 2018 Ready-to-Wear
Photos: Vogue.com

Christian Lacroix: “I was often accused — when people did not like my work — of doing couture that was too ‘theatrical, yet when I was a child, I never thought about fashion but only about making costumes.” AND Vera Wang: “Fashion offers no greater challenge than finding what works for night without looking like you are wearing a costume.”

Left: Mme. Gres draped jersey gown; Right: Yohji Yamamoto Spring 2016 Ready-to-Wear
Photos: Pinterest & Vogue.com

Mme Gres: “Perfection is one of the goals I’m seeking. For a dress to survive from one era to the next, it must be marked with an extreme purity.” AND Yohji Yamamoto: “I think perfection is ugly. Somewhere in the things humans make, I want to see scars, failure, disorder, distortion.”

Left: Giorgio Armani Fall 2019 Ad Campaign with Kate Moss Right: Peggy Moffitt wearing Rudi Gernreich monokini 1964
Photos: theimpression.com & Pinterest

Giorgio Armani: “I design for real people. I think of my customers all the time. There is no virtue whatsoever in creating clothing or accessories that are not practical.” AND Rudi Gernreich: “It was just a whimsical idea that escalated when so many crazy ladies took it up.”

Left: Bottega Veneta; Right: Chanel Fall 1994 Ready-to-Wear
Photos: Bottega Veneta & Vogue.com

Tomas Meier (Creative Director of Bottega Veneta from 2001-2018): “The It Bag is a totally marketed bullshit crap. You make a bag, you put all the components in it that you think could work, you send it out to a couple of celebrities, you get the paparazzi to shoot just when they walk out of the house. You sell that to the cheap tabloids, and you say in a magazine that there’s a waiting list. And you run an ad campaign at the same time. I don’t believe that’s how you make something that’s lasting—that becomes iconic as a design.” AND Karl Lagerfeld: “Logos and branding are so important. In a big part of the world, people cannot read French or English–but are great at remembering signs. Luxury bags make your life more pleasant, make you dream, give you confidence, and show your neighbors you’re doing well.”

Left: Bill Blass Fall 2007 Ready-to-Wear; Right: Comme des Garcons Fall 2019
Photos: Vogue.com

Bill Blass: “The phenomenon of black is purely a New York fashion syndrome. In my observation, rich people never wear black. Black is a classless color. The girls in the fashion industry never made any money until recently. You never see Anna Wintour wear black. Women who have money do not wear black,” he says. AND Rei Kawakubo: “I work in three shades of black.”

The bottom line is that regardless of the degree to which one designer may seem to differ from another radically, there will always be profound, fundamental points of agreement. Each is tapping into his/her creative soul, and seeking to address the needs, dreams, and desires of their customers. Or, at the very least, they are striving to CREATE those needs, dreams, and desires. These elements will pose even more of a challenge as we head into our new normal.

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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