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A Beginner's Guide to Elsa Schiaparelli

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Prada-esque Schiaparelli sunglasses via <a href="http://fashion.1stdibs.com/avl_item_detail.php?id=62050">1stdibs</a>
Prada-esque Schiaparelli sunglasses via 1stdibs

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Next Thursday, May 10, the Costume Institute at the Met opens its spring 2012 exhibit, Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations. We all know Prada, but it's a little harder for the average citizen to fake his or her way through a conversation about Elsa Schiaparelli. To help with that task—and to explain why this show has the potential to be amazing—here are the basic things you should know about the designer Coco Chanel called "that Italian artist who makes clothes."

1.) Schiaparelli was enormous in her day, but she closed up shop in 1954 and died in 1973. So it's totally forgivable when people outside the fashion industry don't know much about her—but she's also someone who deserves the public's attention.

2.) She hung out with the Surrealists and designed dresses with Salvador Dalí. Not only does this mean she was into artist collabs approximately 65 years before Louis Vuitton teamed up with Takashi Murakami, but it also means that her work should be interesting to museum visitors who aren't obsessed with fashion. It also links her to last year's blockbuster Alexander McQueen show, which played off the elements of surrealism in his work.

3.) She's credited with inventing culottes, the wedge heel, and the modern runway show. The Wall Street Journal adds the wrap dress and the power suit to that list, though Diane von Furstenberg might see things differently.

4.) Two fun facts: Her daughter was named Maria Luisa Yvonne Radha de Wendt de Kerlor, though she went by Gogo. And her salon in Paris was nicknamed "the Schaip Shop."

5.) Since Schiaparelli stopped designing so long ago, it's not easy to find her label in stores. But as of Wednesday, the antiques site 1stdibs.com has been selling a collection of her jewelry from the '30s, '40s, and '50s. Mark Walsh of Vintage Luxury, who sourced the collection, told the Times that there's some obvious Prada overlap, like a pair of cat-eye sunglasses covered with enamel roses that bear a strong resemblance to the Prada's flowery spring 2012 jewelry collection.
· Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations [Met Museum]
· Two Divas (One Dead) Talk Fashion [WSJ]
· A Little Something Schiaparelli? [T Magazine]

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