Photograph for Vogue September 1932
“The creations of this Italian designer were Surrealism transformed into fabric, blurring the border between art and fashion.
“Her keenest rival, Coco Chanel, called her simply ‘this Italian artist who makes clothes.’ In contrast to Chanel, the hampion of functional elegance, Elsa Schiaparelli was the rare bird among Parisian couturiers and, at the same time, more than a mrer fashion designer; her fantastic, sometimes audacois fabric structures today remain an impressive demonstration of what clothing looks like when art and fashion embrace.
“Well-traveled (from Rome via London to Chicago and New York) and newly divorced, the Italian designer settled in Paris in 1922 with her daughter Gogo. Soon she was designing her first sweaters inspired by the artistic avnt-garde to which she would soon belong.
Image Credit Philadelphia Museum of Art
“These motifs, knitted sailor’ tattoos, neckties, and an outlined ribcage were ‘shocking,’ quite in keeping with wiht the motto she later chose for herself (from which her famous ‘shocking pink’ was also later derived). These pieces were at first intended only for Schiaparelli’s private use–until an American buyer discovered themand promptly ordered forty sweaters. Schiaparelli, who had never been trained as a desiger (in Rome she studied philosophy), became overnight, at more than thirty years of age, a coturier. Two years later she was employing 400 staff members in eight studios. Her collections were scandalous pyrotechnic displays of textile creativity–as though specifically designed for the exuberant interwar period.
Elsa Schiaparelli Glass Cape: made from rhodophane, a transparent plastic related to cellophane
“Schiaparelli’s approach was never of a purely aesthetic nature. Fashion, as she wrote later,’ is born by small facts, trends, or even politics, never by trying to make little pleats and furbelows, by trinkets, by clothes easy to copy, or by the shortening or lengthening of a skirt.’ And even if she changed the silhouette of her garments with every collection (retaining only the wide shoulders she created), and had no fear of unusual materials (she used glass fiber, latex, cellophane, and sackcloth). it was the link with the world of art that defined her surreal collections.
Schiaparelli invented the wide shoulder look of pre-World War II
“Jean Cocteau sketched the sewing patterns for her fabrics and Pablo Picasso inspired her fabrics decorated with newsprint, while the oversized lobster on one of ther evening gowns came from Salvador Dali.
“Also with Dali, ‘Schiap,’ as she was called, designed the famous telephone purse in blck velvet with a gold dial. Speaking of accessories, she was one of the first fashion designers to create a whole range of gloves, jewelry, watches, shawls, bathing suits, and purses, all of which bore her label (although at the time this was still known unpretentiously as a ‘tag’).
“And it was particularly here that Schiaparelli showed her devestating wit: she had buttons made in the shape of padlocks, circus horses, and musical instruments, threaded aspirin tablets into bracelets, and allowed zippers to be clearly visible in her haute couture. Her hats were shaped like brains, inkwells with quills, or, relatively tamely, like the Eiffel Tower.
“When the Germans marched into Paris, Schiaparelli immigrated to the U.S. After the war, back in the French capital, the creative fun was over. ChristianDior’s New Look determined the style of the new age, and little space was left for Schiaparelli’s fantastically extravagant creations. By 1954, the salon of this great artist of haute couture had become design history. ”
Simone Werle. p. 27.
- Publisher: Prestel (April 24, 2010)