We love Schiaparelli and continually revisit her work and her approach. A look at the woman that in her time was more famous than Gabrielle Chanel and who was the great surrealist link between fashion and art. PE
Elsa Schiaparelli, perhaps the forgotten soul of fashion, flourished in the roaring 20s and through the glamour of the 30s. A prominent designer in the world of fashion between the two world wars, she was a direct rival to Coco Chanel, who once referred to her as “that Italian artist who makes clothes.” Plausibly speaks volumes of Schiaparelli’s influence at the time, her collaboration with surrealist artist Salvador Dali, radically introduced a new archetype into the rarefied industry of fashion. Credibly, the fashion foremother of the surrealist movement – she arguably found herself at the crossroads of two mediums many wouldn’t have dared to find themselves in. She led by example to create courageous, whimsical, yet nevertheless wearable art, setting the benchmark for designers for decades to follow.
Born in Rome, 1890, Schiaparelli, led a privileged
life. The daughter of a Neapolitan aristocrat mother and a renowned scholar for a father, the university of Rome, where she studied philosophy. Yet, it was this privilege that suffocated Schiaparelli, often feeling it repressed her creativity. She moved to London after accepting a job as a nanny, where she met her husband, Count William de Wendt de Kerlor, before relocating to New York, finding work in a French fashion boutique, meeting friends, who lured her to Paris where she began designing. 1930s Paris was a hub for creatives that produced some of the most cultural artistic phenomena’s, from poets, to designers to artists. It was there that she met Salvador Dali, a prominent figure in the Surrealist movement. They began working together in 1935, a daring pair whose similar artistic ideologies led them to create some of the most audacious designs that fashion has ever seen.
Schiaparelli’s debut began with the use of trompe l’oeil – a visual illusion that is used to trick the eye into perceiving a painted detail as a three-dimensional object. Her sweaters, caught the attention of French Vogue and demand led Schiaparelli to employ a team to keep up with demand, thus signalling the beginning of The House of Schiaparelli. Schiaparelli’s continued use of trompe l’oeil, became a signature for her, resulting in some of the most captivating work the fashion industry has ever seen. The Circus Collection, 1938, produced the iconic tear dress, specially designed by Dali, shows rips and tears on the dress and head veil. However, upon closer look the dress is printed and the rips in the veil have been carefully cut out and lined in pink and magenta, intended to give the illusion of torn and decomposing animal flesh. The skeleton dress, from the same collection, tapped into the Surrealist fascination of anatomy. The eerie, black crepe dress used cotton padding to create exaggerated bones. Conceivably the most distinguished piece Dali and Schiaparelli have collaborated on – the famously provocative lobster dress worn by the Duchess of Windsor, worked on the surrealist philosophy of reality and fantasy. Schiaparelli erased the traditional significance of the bridal white dress and the idea of virginity. The white organdy dress, with a giant blushing red lobster in the middle between the thighs, brought mass attention with its sexual connotation. “Like lobsters, young girls have a delightful exterior.
Like lobsters, they turn red when you get them ready to eat”.While Schiaparelli designed outside the helm of surrealism, it seems her most infamous work was also her downfall. After WWII, she returned to Paris, she no longer had that mesmerising influence on her clients as she once did. Women now craved femininity and romance and swayed towards Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’. She was forced to close the house in 1954, ironically the same year Chanel decided to reopen her house. Unanimously, it seems her works stayed hidden in the fashion archives, while history forgot the work of Elsa Schiaparelli.
But for those who knew the true influence of Schiaparelli, knew that her legacy would have not deteriorated from history forever. In 2007, the House of Schiaparelli was acquired by an Italian business man, and the appointment of Marco Zanini in 2013, saw the revival of the brand. The house returned to the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and presented its first collection in January 2014.
Main Image Schiaparelli 1936-® Hulton-Deutsch CollectionCORBIS