From the late editor, writer, and critic, one of the great chroniclers of the art, fashion, and celebrity scenes: an expansive collection of thirty-five essays that offer an intimate look into the worlds of some of the most important and well-known artists, designers, and actors of our time.
For more than three decades, Ingrid Sischy's profiles and critical essays have been admired for their keen observation and playful style. Many of the pieces that appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair from the 1980s to 2015 are gathered here for the first time, including her masterful profiles of Nicole Kidman, Kristen Stewart, Miuccia Prada, Calvin Klein, Jeff Koons, Jean Pigozzi, Alice Neel, and Francesco Clemente, among others, as well as her exclusive interview with John Galliano after his career nose-dived in 2011. Whether writing about a young Alexander McQueen, the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe, Sebastião Salgado, Cindy Sherman, or Bob Richardson, or the Japanese musical theater group Takarazuka Revue, Sischy's close attention to the unexpectedly telling detail results in vividly crafted, incisive portraits of individuals and their works.
Here is a unique collection that gives readers unprecedented access to a dazzling range of artists from one of the greatest cultural critics of a generation.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||7.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.70(d)|
About the Author
INGRID SISCHY was a South African-born American writer and art critic who focused on art, photography, and fashion. She was the editor-in-chief of Artforum from 1980 to 1988, the editor-in-chief of Interview magazine from 1989 to 2008, a consulting editor at The New Yorker from 1988 to 1996, and a contributing editor to Vanity Fair from 1997 to 2015. She died in 2015.
Read an Excerpt
Some Clothes of One’s Own
(Published in The New Yorker – February 7, 1994)
For most of her forty-four years, the designer Miuccia Prada shuddered at the notion of working in fashion. Like lots of people, she thought of fashion as basically silly, and as a stupid, superficial way to spend much of one’s time. She wanted a life with real meaning. Her family, which owned a Milan leather-goods company, had money, and she was smart and well educated. In keeping with a tradition of socially aware upper-class Italians, she joined the Communist Party in the seventies, while she was attending university in Milan, where she received a doctorate in political science. By her mid-twenties, she had risen in the ranks of the feminist section of the Party, and was spending many of her days demonstrating, leafleting, or confronting local government officials, and her nights debating or giving speeches at meetings. It’s funny to think of her now as someone issuing manifestos and holding forth in public, because she’s shy, and everything about her resists formulas, including her looks. She’s been described as a woman one might find in a painting by Modigliani. Her face veers between beautifully plain and plainly beautiful. She has brown eyes and shoulder-length auburn hair. It wouldn’t be true to say that she’s slim, or that she’s not; she’s what old-fashioned doctors used to call “the right weight.”
Even back when Prada’s opinions of fashion were dismissive, she didn’t dress like the rest of her crowd. She wore antique dresses, not jeans, and even a few pricier outfits; her favorites were by Yves Saint Laurent. She realized that this way of presenting herself might undercut the idea that she was serious about her politics, but the draw that such clothes had for her was greater than any concern about what others might think. “Although I was ashamed of the desire I had for these clothes, I refused to reject this part of myself,” she says.
Perhaps an extra reason that Prada had shuddered at the thought of working in fashion was that such a career had been in the cards for her all along. The family business wasn’t just any leather-goods company—it was Fratelli Prada, one of the great Milan stores, whose goods had helped establish Italy’s reputation for craftsmanship and fine quality since the beginning of the century. In 1958, Miuccia’s mother had stepped in as boss at Prada after the death of Mario Prada, the patriarch who created the business, and by the late seventies the question of Miuccia’s tie to her heritage could no longer remain up in the air. She’d been helping out more and more, liked it, and found herself absorbed in the question of Prada’s future. But the decision to work permanently for the firm was difficult, not just because of her take on fashion as a world of smoke and mirrors but also because of the political climate in the seventies. “Being so involved in the women’s movement then, and in everything that it was trying to accomplish, I thought that making bags or shoes or dresses was the worst way I could spend my time,” she says. “I was embarrassed, since most fashion had been such a nightmare for women. And I never actually decided to become a designer. Eventually, I found that I was one. I wanted to be something more. But I am what I am. Not everyone can be Albert Schweitzer or Karl Marx.”
The fact is that Miuccia Prada has ended up doing more with accessories and with fashion than one might think possible. When she took over, in 1978, the company was in the doldrums, just plugging along. In a way, she has continued what her grandfather Mario Prada began when he established Fratelli Prada, in 1913. But she has done it from a completely different perspective,
and with completely different results. Like Miuccia, her grandfather approached his work as though he were an explorer. He made long, arduous journeys all over the world to discover the finest materials for his opulent luggage and other luxury items, including some fancy ladies’ handbags that were the epitome of elegance. Italian leather wasn’t good enough for him: He used leather made in Vienna, because it was the best then. In those days, you had to be rich to afford Prada, and in the twenties and thirties Italian aristocrats and European royalty were crazy for the company’s products. Classic Prada suitcases of that period were so heavy that you needed servants to carry them. The cases were fabricated from walrus skin, and they included toilet articles made of tortoiseshell, ivory, and gold. Inside, there were as many compartments as in a gentleman’s dressing room, some of them packed with grooming tools that don’t exist anymore. But with the Second World War that way of life disappeared. The family kept the business going by selling goods that were still of high quality but were much more mundane.
It’s anybody’s guess what Mario Prada might say if he were alive to see the backpack that his granddaughter created—the item that initially put life and prestige back into the business. This bag is so light that when it’s empty it feels like nothing. It’s black, and very practical-looking, and it doesn’t always have a lining. And it’s made of a material that has no snob appeal at all: nylon. The backpacks, run up on machines used for making parachutes for the Italian army, initially appeared in the early eighties, and at first it seemed that nobody wanted them. What was hot then was anything that blatantly suggested status and money. Prada’s only positive reinforcement came from the fashion vanguard. Mostly she received the kind of advice you often get when you’ve done something ahead of its time: People tried to persuade her to add elements that would transform her creation to fit the moment’s formulas for success. They said she should put initials on the backpacks, the way Gucci does on its bags. She refused. She’d hated those initials the whole time she was growing up. After a couple of years, her instinct and conviction paid off. The backpacks and other handheld bags started to attract more and more customers, and then she did add a metal PRADA tag, taken from historic Prada steamer trunks. Women became so attached to the bags, carrying them day and night, everywhere and on every occasion, that they were almost like cult objects. They still are; it’s just that now there are more members of the Prada-bag tribe. Constant use was exactly what Prada had in mind: We have so many things to lug around, she believes, that we need something light to carry them in; we go out straight from work, so we have to have something that functions no matter where we are; we can’t be worrying that a spill or a splash will lead to ruin; we need something washable, flexible, tough, and soft.
The bags also caught the eye of the man who became Miuccia’s husband and partner, Patrizio Bertelli. She got to know him at a trade fair, where she discovered that he was selling bags that looked a lot like the ones she’d designed. She hunted him down, pointed out the faults in his versions, and engineered things so that the competition would end up working with her. Soon the team of Prada and Bertelli was running a company that was producing clothes as well as shoes and bags. “From the moment we met, we started disputing,” she told me, laughing, “and we haven’t stopped yet.”
Recently, I spent a few days with Miuccia and her husband in Milan, and on the last of them I was partly responsible for a spat between them, because she and I had been talking so long, she’d kept him waiting. When we walked into the Prada offices, it was obvious we were in the doghouse. She was about an hour late, and the looks on the faces of the young women running the reception area flashed storm warnings. From the top of the stairwell, Bertelli’s voice rained down at us, and, while I couldn’t understand the words, their tone was enough to make me want to scram.
He didn’t give a hoot that his wife had been talking to a reporter. This is not a fellow who spends time trying to seduce the press. “Miuccia! Miuccia! You have work to do!” he scolded. And, turning to me, the other culprit, he said, “I’m going to kill you later!” “At or with dinner?” I asked, referring to plans we had for that evening. Except for quick smiles, neither Miuccia nor Patrizio allowed my presence to distract them, and therein lies a significant difference between these two and most of the fashion pack. There’s none of that faking of harmony, of confidence, or of success, which is constant in the fashion business. With Prada and Bertelli, you don’t have to pick your way through the hype. They don’t waste energy pretending things for the sake of their public image.
It’s a whole other kind of pretending that keeps the house of Prada moving—the dreaming and fantasizing that go on in Miuccia Prada’s head. The first time I saw one of her runway shows, a few years ago, a friend whispered, “What an incredible interior life that woman must have.” These words—surprising for a fashion show—struck home, because they seemed to pinpoint what was so riveting about what we’d seen. The clothes seemed to have something extra to them—or, rather, in them. They suggested that someone, not something, had caused them to be. A while later, I started to wear some simple Prada stuff myself: sweaters, shoes, an anorak, one of her black nylon backpacks. Immediately, they seemed familiar and intimate.
At first glance, some of Prada’s work looks plain and undesigned. How it feels on the body is something else altogether; its power remains the wearer’s secret. Her ability to give clothes this strong inner quality has to do with her own experience. Her imagination is a huge part of who she is, of how she does her work, and of how she gets through life. She confessed to me, “I always live a double life. There is my real life, and then there is the one I would like to live. I am never in my real life only. I am always also in my dreams, or hopes, or thinking about somebody. It’s always like this for me.” Where her mind travels is often, but not always, reflected in her clothes and accessories. But what can always be discerned in her creations is Miuccia Prada’s worldview—her view of fashion, her view of women, and even her feelings about the ways the sexes relate to each other. (She recently launched a small line of clothes and accessories for men. Most of them aren’t that different from her sporty women’s clothes.) Also discernible in anything by Prada is her understanding of materials, of what they can give us—or take from us. Many of her creations mix different materials, different textures, different weights, different values, different traditions, different processes, different associations.
Since the beginning, with her 1988–1989 collection for autumn-winter, her ready-to-wear shows have frequently had a schoolgirl theme. The models have been styled to look like the kind of girls that are considered trouble: the ones who are a bit too bohemian as far as their teachers and parents are concerned, who sleep with a guitar-playing dropout, or who smoke, or spend too much time on art class and not enough on math. The clothes themselves don’t necessarily have misfit connotations, and they’re not even particularly geared to young women, but, the way Prada imagines them worn, they’re like uniforms for the slightly disenfranchised. I asked her if she’d been one of those rebellious kids she likes to create on the runway. She said, “I tried to be bad, but I couldn’t be as bad as I would have liked—not as bad as the girls I really admired, and not as bad as the ones who are in my dreams.”
From the outside, Miuccia Prada appears to be what society expects of a woman of her standing. In many ways, she seems the epitome of the good daughter, the good wife, the good mother, the good Italian. She and her husband and their children—they have two small sons—live in the building she grew up in, and her brother and her sister (who went to work at the firm after Miuccia took over), her ex-sister-in-law, her mother, and her aunt all have apartments in the same building. Most Americans would find such an arrangement stifling, but Miuccia’s designs prove that roosting at home can be a way of taking flight. She describes her working life as “exactly like school,” and it’s as though out of all this institutionalism she had wrung its opposite: freedom. Her designs have freedom of movement, freedom from definition, freedom from constriction.
Bohemians, avant-gardists, beatniks have been constant motifs in her designs, but she has also had fun with clothes that signal money and bombshell allure. Prada’s outfits allow a woman to feel glamorous yet convey the sense that she’s playing with glamour—she’s not owned by it. Prada has done lunch outfits, hostess dresses, ski-bunny ensembles, and twin sets of all types, but in a way that suggests they’re part of a movie, not real life. Their colors, including a citrus green that she’s particularly fond of, are often as candylike as early Technicolor. Box pleats, bows, snoods, puffs, fashions of the fifties and early sixties, and a memory of the designs of Balenciaga, Courrèges, and Givenchy are just some of the elements that come into play in these clothes. Her collection for autumn-winter 1991–1992 recalled Hollywood heroines—especially the kind who went on heists. Some of the outfits seemed made for cat burglars, for roles in the Pink Panther movies, or perhaps for Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief. The young Audrey Hepburn would have looked fantastic in every single outfit.
You can tell what kind of evening Miuccia Prada has had by the shutters in the courtyard of her house in Milan. If she’s been smoking and drinking, chances are that the clothes she had on the night before will be hanging outside. And then she’ll do everything that’s supposed to be healthy, but you don’t hear her promising that she’s going to give up cigarettes or alcohol. She says that this outdoor fumigating is the best way to get rid of the smell of her sins, but I think it’s also a ritual that reflects her personality. As she points out, she’s a “Catho-Communist”; that is, she has experienced the moralizing of both Catholicism and communism. She uses notions of goodness and badness as if they were the oil and vinegar without which her fashion wouldn’t mix into what she wants. And she isn’t afraid of living with contradictions and conflicting desires. Rather, she seems to need to express their presence. “Everybody makes a choice when he or she gets dressed,” she says. “It’s not true when people say, ‘I don’t care what I have on.’ Your way of dressing is something you can go to the psychoanalyst to find out about, because there are so many personal things involved. Women, especially, have complexes when it comes to dressing, because of all the attitudes toward women—about who we are supposed to be, what’s supposed to be sexy, and so on. Look at Mrs. Clinton, whom I admire. You can tell exactly what’s going on. You can see that she’s clever and badly dressed. Maybe she doesn’t care, maybe she doesn’t understand fashion, maybe she has bad advisers.”
Prada’s own solution to the trauma of shopping—or a trip to the closet—was to return to a phase of her life when her clothes were without all that sexist baggage. She paid a visit to the Ferrari sisters, on Via Bigli, who are Milan’s most exclusive tailors of children’s clothes, and had dresses and coats made to order, scaled up to her size and with “corrections,” such as a bigger or smaller collar than the one that was there. She commissioned the Ferraris to create her wedding dress, too, and even though she mostly wears her own designs now, on occasion she still places an order there, and also at shops such as Cirri, in Florence, which she says makes the best sailor dresses around. You can trace her love of children’s clothes in some of the details that she likes to include, such as smocking, and in the way she uses undergarments modeled on children’s underwear. Her newer line, Miu Miu—which is her nickname—evokes everyone’s childhood memories. But grown women, not children, are the point of Prada’s work.
“Today, a designer of women’s clothes has to express something that is deep enough so that it represents what a lot of women feel,” she says. “Maybe that’s why, in general, it’s the women designers who are so successful at this.” By sneaking her own experiences and her dreams into what the company manufactures—coats, pants of all kinds, sweaters, bustiers, jackets, suits, skirts, dresses, pinafores, shoes, bags—she has done something revolutionary. But her work hasn’t always been recognized as such, because it isn’t obviously radical.
First of all, Prada isn’t cheap. Like her grandfather, Miuccia Prada goes for the best of whatever material she’s using. And the products are utterly beautiful, sometimes in a new way, sometimes not. What makes her work revolutionary is the way it makes so much other fashion look outdated. Even though Prada has designed women’s clothes based on men’s fashion, her newer designs have rendered stale the whole idea of women wearing men’s clothes. Prada herself says she has bought and worn plenty of men’s clothes in her day; for a long time, that approach seemed the only alternative to clothes that made women feel bad. But the symbolism is starting to get empty. The singer k.d. lang said to me recently, “You know I have this image of being someone who wears men’s clothes. But I didn’t wear clothes that are associated with men because I wanted to come off like a man. It’s just that there were no other kinds of clothes that had to do with confidence and authority instead of vulnerability and stereotypical sexiness. I wish there had been a third choice.” Then she reported her latest discovery: “I was in a department store shopping with a friend. I went through the men’s department. I went through the women’s department. Then my friend brought me this beautiful jacket. I tried it on, and it fit. I said, ‘Where’s this from?’ She replied, ‘The women’s department.’ I said, ‘You’re kidding me.’ I was shocked. The label was Prada.”
This is how Miuccia Prada would explain what lang experienced: “In the end, there is something that goes through one person to another.” But how many designers can communicate as quickly as that through their clothes? How many others are in touch with what people really want? Prada’s magic is that she makes the consumer feel understood. Her clothes are driven by her own feelings and by her sharp sense of where we are in the world. “I have the sensation that happiness is forbidden,” she says. “If you have it, you need to hide it. How can anyone be happy with so much terribleness around, with so many reminders of all the problems that exist? But sometimes, thank God, someone feels happy anyway, perhaps for some personal reason. The way to express this joy or sense of beauty has to be subtle. You have to keep it personal—you have to wear this richness in a manner that is private.” Many of her clothes give joy in that private way, and the element of privacy may explain why Prada, which has taken off as a business, is still a kind of secret. It isn’t logo fashion. During collection season, top fashion editors and stylists typically make a point of wearing the clothes of big-name designers, but at the Prada stores in Milan, which have the biggest inventory, you also see them shopping for themselves.
For all her receptivity to others, Miuccia Prada is very sure of what she does—most of the time. She still gets worked up about her 1989 autumn-winter collection, her third; it stank, she says. Her next collection faltered, too, and it took a while for her to find herself as a designer again. In those collections, she used conventional, Seventh Avenue solutions. The clothes were overdesigned, and it seemed that commercial considerations and self-consciousness, not the usual articulation of her unconscious, were leading her. Some of the models looked wrapped like presents, without any of Prada’s characteristic humor. Her third collection included two of the least Pradaesque things she has ever done: power-suit shoulder pads and cardigans with buttons in the shape of letters that spelled out the name Prada. That show made her miserable, but it was a lesson, too. “The whole time I was working, I hated everything,” she says. “It was not me. It was a nightmare. If it’s my mistake, it’s okay. In fact, I like mistakes, because mistakes are what life’s about—they tell you something’s alive. Yet this was something that made me crazy. For ten days, I was mad. I hated all the people around me, and I told them it was the last time others would push me to do what I didn’t want.”
It has been only five years since Prada began doing runway collections, but next week the company will receive the International Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Prada and Bertelli should get a prize for trusting themselves as well as the intelligence of the consumer. As they’ve gathered more experience, they’ve become increasingly convinced that their company’s success is based on its personal approach. Miuccia Prada is the critical link, for it is her sense of touch, her desires, her feelings, her memories, her problems, her dreams that are passed on. This creates enormous pressure, and enormous problems as the company gets bigger (there are now forty-five Prada stores worldwide, twenty of them owned by Prada, and two Miu Miu stores), but Miuccia admits that she enjoys coming in to fix things, thus reasserting her indispensability. This is a long way from dreading a career in something as trivial as fashion. Miuccia claims that her husband would be happier if it were possible to do the work without her, but that’s the only thing she told me that I don’t believe. Bertelli, who oversees everything, is very aware of the importance of his wife’s role. He is a charming combination of opposites himself, and it’s clear that they rely on each other.
The dynamic between Miuccia and Bertelli is part of the Prada recipe: It keeps the passion for the work high, it guarantees constant debate, and it clarifies the roles of both players. The two are capable of polemics that could exhaust even Miuccia’s old Communist comrades. Bertelli didn’t kill me that night in Milan, but their debate over dinner about the merits of different types of rare Venetian glass almost did, because I laughed so much. Out came a bottle that Miuccia had commissioned from the Pauly factory in Venice, which has produced handblown glass for hundreds of years. Then another, and another, and another, until the table was covered with bottles. The issue was which was the right color. Just when I had given up on the possibility of there ever being agreement between the two, Miuccia got up and presented the one example that satisfied them both. It was an antique piece of her grandfather’s, a broken violet-colored lantern. They concurred that it was perfect.
Such hypersensitivity to details is a bond between them. So is their love of art, especially art that was truly avant-garde when it was made. Prada shops are designed in ways that are reminiscent of the art galleries of the sixties. They have that same emphasis on a clean space, on an environment that heightens perceptions. But the indirect neon lighting isn’t gallerylike at all; it’s a way of reconstructing that catchword of the fifties—glamour. While glamour may be as suspect a term today as elegance, Prada has reinvented it in new forms. Some of her clothes allow one to have a private experience of feeling glamorous, and others provide the glamour of iconoclasm. One inspiration for this is the work of Italian filmmakers of the early sixties. (Her advertising campaign for this spring was shot at the Castello di Donnafugata, in Sicily, where Visconti filmed The Leopard.) She credits Antonioni, for example, with influencing her first two collections. And when one looks at the clothes she presented there, it’s clear why: The dresses, sportswear, and slips, mostly in black and white, echo what the stylish, lonely people in his films wore. There’s a line in L’Avventura that sums up the approach Prada took when she began. A father asks his daughter if young people going sailing still wear caps embroidered with the name of the yacht, and she replies, “It’s not done anymore.” And the scene in La Notte where the guests throw caution to the wind and jump into a swimming pool in full evening gear epitomizes Prada’s boredom with the whole old idea of elegance. She knows that it’s a dead issue.
Her most recent collection, which has just arrived in stores, is her most intimate statement yet, and has many of the same elements as her first collection. There is a lot of black, and sheerness, and lace-up shoes worn with ankle socks. One dress, made of black organza and trimmed with black knit—the whole thing slightly crumpled—was shown so that the black underwear beneath looked like a mirage. But there was nothing here that reminded me of anybody’s movie. I couldn’t help thinking she’d dreamed this collection rather than drawn it. Many of the clothes seemed to float down the runway, grounded only by the sureness of the models’ feet in their lace-ups and socks or stockings. These clothes often display Prada’s love of showing opposites together. There are knits, silks, cottons, linens, gauzes, leathers, viscoses, velvets, suedes, nets, and the industrial material that represented Prada’s first breakthrough: nylon. The beauty of it all was unmistakable, but it didn’t conform to any formula for beauty, so some in the audience looked puzzled. But the clothes had an answer for problems that are rarely faced in fashion: “It’s okay if you’ve made mistakes, if you’re scared, if you’re aggressive, if you’re fat, if you’re beautiful, if you’re ugly, if you feel crazy, defensive, happy,” the collection seemed to say. “Come into my arms.” I watched it, entranced. Especially the dresses. It was the first time in twenty years that I’d been able to picture myself wearing one.
Excerpted from "Nothing Is Lost"
Copyright © 2018 Ingrid Sischy.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword, by Laurie Anderson
The Hands of Time
White and Black
Sam Wagstaff’s Silver
Lee Friedlander: Nudes
Some Clothes of One’s Own
A Picture of One’s Own
That Feeling in the Stomach
The Whole Clemente
Triumph of the Still
Koons, High and Low
The Smithsonian’s Big Chill
The Rebel in Prada
Nicole’s New Light
How Fashion Left Me Speechless
Rosenquist’s Big Picture
Artist in Residence
Calvin to the Core
Kith, Kin & Khaya
Living Large Is the Best Revenge
A Man of Darkness and Dreams
Hollywood’s Rebel Belle
Hats Off to Karl
Galliano in the Wilderness
Jeff Koons Is Back!
Her Place in the Sun