Sunday, 30 September 2012

Elsa Schiaparelli: The Surreal Life


Elsa Schiaparelli
Portrait of Elsa Schiaparelli is by George Hoyningen-Huené ~ 1932
Image courtesy of: Glam You

The moment people stop copying you, you have ceased to be news.”

(Photo by Horst P. Horst ~ Vogue, 1934)
Image courtesy of: Fashion Office


Nimble wit, in whatever form it chooses to manifest itself—whether it be derisively caustic or delectably humorous—takes great intelligence; and as with intelligence, its counterpart, great wit is also indicative of sharpness of mind as well as a probing, inquisitive curiosity. In the chronicles of fashion, the irreverent Italian-born designer and Parisian couturière, Elsa Schiaparelli, prominently stands for her great sense of sartorial satire (and subversive, nonconformist innovations). No where was that satire more apparent than it was on view at the recently-ended Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute dual exhibition, Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations (held from May 10th to August 19th, 2012), which traced the meteoric rise of Elsa Schiaparelli's fabulous career and contrasted it with that of Miuccia Prada's. (The exhibition was segmented into seven distinct galleries—Waist Up/Waist Down; Ugly Chic; Hard Chic; Naïf Chic; The Classical Body; The Exotic Body; The Surreal Body—in which “the striking affinities between Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada, two Italian designers from different eras” were explored. (The attendance for this year's exhibit totalled 339,838.) (Quote & sources: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, 2012; Wilson, E., The New York TimesOn the Runway, August 20, 2012)

The purpose of any exhibition—it can be said—is to celebrate, to reflect upon and, most importantly, to acknowledge, to educate and to familiarize the greater public with an individual's contribution to his or her field of profession. And, for that matter, designer exhibitions are nothing new; they have been worldwide museum and gallery staples for decades. This latest one, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art's Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, followed on the (stiletto-)heels of an earlier one, held nine years previously: The Philadelphia Museum of Art'sShocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli (September 28th, 2003 to January 4th, 2004)—no one can entirely ascertain the reason, not even Dylis Blum, curator of that exhibit, but it was to the Philadelphia Museum of Art that Madame Schiaparelli had generously donated the majority of her personal collection in 1969.
(Source: McCarthy, C., The Jewelry Loupe, January 30, 2012)

What was new about the Met's exhibit, however, was its “conversations” between two Italian women designers—both of whom accomplished in their own right—from two different eras: one current and very much alive, the other deceased (played by an actress, reassuringly)—having shuttered her House and retired fifty-eight years ago. (The concept for “Impossible Conversations” is not an original one—it was first introduced in the June 15th, 1936, issue of Vogue magazine in which an imagined brief conversation between Elsa Schiaparelli and Joseph Stalin was featured under the title of “Impossible Interview: Stalin Versus Schiaparelli” (with an illustration of the Italian couturière and the Soviet dictator—whom Schiaparelli refers to as “Man of Steel”—by Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias). In it, Schiaparelli confronts Stalin about the unstoppable influence of Western fashion on Russian women and, as with their Western sisters, their natural vanity and desire to beautify themselves [Sources: Elsa Schiaparelli, voguepedia, November 19, 2010; Impossible Interviews: Legends at Loggerheads, Vanity Fair, May 24, 2012]).

But perhaps what draws the public's attention to any exhibition (and ignites its imagination) is one of two things: either an artist's larger-than-life personality or the artist's larger-than-life reputation. In the annals of fashion, few are placed or have remotely reached the pinnacle of their métier quite as Elsa Schiaparelli had—and as anyone familiar with the world of fashion will attest, it is a world never lacking in either personalities or reputations.

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Gallery views of Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations
Video courtesy of: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Elsa Luisa Maria Schiaparelli, whose happenstance but trail-blazing foray into dressmaking would, in time, introduce the world to such innovations as padded shoulders (along with couturièr Marcel Rochas, in August of 1931) to give the illusion of a narrower waistline (“In Hollywood, one special item of popularity had preceded me—that of the padded shoulders. I had started them to give women a slimmer waist. They proved the Mecca of the manufacturers. Joan Crawford had adopted them and molded her silhouette on them for years to come. They became emphasized and monstrous. Adrian [the Hollywood costume designer] took them up with overwhelming enthusiasm[Quote: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2006]); apron-inspired wraparound dresses that tied at the side (thereby eliminating the hassle of finding 'the perfectly fitted' dress); the culotte (or “divided skirt,” designed in April of 1931 specifically for Spanish tennis player Lili d'Alvarez at Wimbledon—it caused a sensational uproar that outraged the tennis world); evening gown ensembles that included heavily embroidered little dinner jackets (evening suits); brightly-hued zippers—(still a novelty in the Thirties that offered an alternative and easier form of closure than cumbersome buttons; Mme. Schiaparelli is also widely credited for being the first designer to introduce zippers to haute couture dressmaking as far back as 1935)—made to synchronize in colour with the materials used in garments; and elaborate—almost jewel-like—buttons (designed in collaboration with Jean Clement and Alberto Giacometti from such diverse materials as wood, china, celluloid, glass, crystal, amber, white jade, clay, and even sealing wax), was born under the astrological sign of Virgo in Rome at the Palazzo Corsini on September 10th, 1890, to Maria-Luisa, a Neapolitan aristocratic mother, and Celestino Schiaparelli, a scholarly father who, aside from being curator of medieval manuscripts, possessed an aptitude for and a proficiency in Sanskrit—and who, besides being a  dean at the University of Rome and a professor of Oriental studies, dabbled in numismatology as a pastime.

Though Elsa would earn for herself a stellar career in fashion, acquiring a world-class clientele list that included some of  the world's chic-est, celebrated and most soignée tastemakers of her generation, the Schiaparellis were, in their own right, a family of high-achievers. As such, they were neither strangers to acclaim nor immune to lofty accomplishments—her family members, aside from her exceptionally erudite father, consisted of a famous uncle, Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910), an astronomer (of whom more will be discussed shortly) and a 1902 Bruce Medalist who discovered the canali on Mars, a man who was an expert in both ancient and modern languages as well as religions. Another relation, her father's cousin Ernesto Schiaparelli (1856-1928), was not only associated with the Museum of Antiquities in Turin but he was also the archaeologist and scholar who helped unearth the Giza necropolis in Egypt—one among many—in the first, dawning years of the Twentieth century; Ernesto was also responsible for discovering Deir el-Medina, the New Kingdom Royal tomb-builders' village—founded sometime early in the 18th Dynasty—in the Theban necropolis.
(Sources: Steiker, V., Shocking Life: The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli, Bookforum, June/July/August 2007; Sowray. B., Who's Who: Elsa Schiaparelli, Vogue, April 18, 2012; Flanner, J., Comet, The New Yorker, June 18, 1932; The British Museum, Deir el-Medina, undated; Elsa Schiaparelli, voguepedia, November 19, 2010; McCarthy, C., Women who paved the way: Elsa Schiaparelli, The Jewelry Loupe, January 30, 2012; Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003)

Above left, Schiaparelli in her Paris studio ~ 1938 | Above right, illustration for hats ~ Autumn-Winter 1937/1938 collection
Note Schiaparelli's iconic “Shoe” hat, designed in collaboration with Salvador Dalí in 1937:
 “The Shoe hat from 1937 was perhaps her most whimsical design. The hat was designed by Salvador Dalí who was inspired by a photograph of himself wearing his wife's shoe on his head.”
Both images above are courtesy of: AnOther
Elsa Schiaparelli's whimsical & iconic “Shoe Hat” ~ Autumn-Winter 1937/1938
Image courtesy of: The Jewelry Loupe
Fashion 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.” ~ Elsa Schiaparelli
Above left image, courtesy of: Il Curioso | Above right image, courtesy of: DMagazine
Growing up in a traditional Roman household, Elsa was a thin, liberal-minded girl who was anything but traditional. At the age of six, showing that fabled streak of contrariness for which she would become famous, Elsa ran away from home, turning up three days later in the most unlikely of places—she was found marching at the head of a local parade. She attended a local English school and spent summers either on Capri or in her astronomical uncle Giovanni's garden near Lake Como. (Although she was a voracious reader—Mme. Schiaparelli had an aptitude for languages and, in her adulthood, read a great deal in French, English, Italian, and German—Elsa was a reluctant, academically  disinclined student.) When she was nineteen years of age she enrolled at the University of Rome where she studied philosophy (a course which she actually enjoyed in spite of her dislike of academia). Two years later, the twenty-one year old Elsa penned a sensual poem, Arethusa, named after the nymph who guarded a fountain of forgetfulness; Arethusa was a poem about sorrow, love, sensuality and mysticism. Luckily—or unluckily, as it turned out—Elsa's poem found a publisher. Arethusa caused somewhat of a minor scandal in the Schiaparelli household, shocking her parents; her father, Celestino, refused to read it. But from what he could glean from what was quoted of the poem—added to the fact that Elsa was discovered yet again with a manuscript, clearly bent on verse—determined Celestino in his decision that the best remedy for his headstrong, rebellious daughter was to send her off to an Alpine convent-school in Switzerland, where she apparently fell ill. (Some accounts suggest that she went on a hunger strike in protest.) At any rate, she managed to recover sufficiently enough to endure a couple of years at the Swiss school. 
(Sources: Flanner, J., Comet, The New Yorker, June 18, 1932; Sowray. B., Who's Who: Elsa Schiaparelli, Vogue, April 18, 2012; Shocking! The Art & Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003)
Never considered a 'pretty' girl in the conventional sense, as a youngster, Elsa was berated by her mother—who lived to the advanced age of one-hundred-and-three—for her homely looks, often (unfavourably) comparing the girl's unattractiveness and unfashionable thinness with the more becoming looks of her much older sister Beatrice's, who was very religious and with whom Elsa—not surprisingly perhaps—did not have a close relationship. (Knowingly or not, adults can be detrimentally cruel to young children.) In reaction to her mother's notions about her less-than-average looks, Elsa determined to beautify herself in whimsical, unconventional ways. Her aforementioned uncle, Giovanni Schiaparelli—an astronomer at the Brera Astronomical Observatory (Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera) in Milan who named the “seas” and “continents” on Mars—tried to allay the young Elsa's insecurities and to simultaneously fortify her undermined self-confidence by tactfully (and sensibly) pointing out to her that the cluster of moles on her left cheek resembled the asterism of the Big Dipper. (An asterism is a group or formation of stars that are part of a larger constellation. In this case, the Big Dipper—or the Plough, as it is known in the United Kingdom—forms part of the constellation Ursa Major.) (Together, uncle and niece would typically spend long nocturnal hours peering at the distant stars through one of Giovanni's telescopes. These starry nights fomented a lifelong interest in the heavens—the celestial realm and iconography would surface and resurface in several of Mme. Schiaparelli's collections from 1935 to 1940, culminating most notably in the Spring-Summer 1937 Zodiac Collection.”) (Sources: Berenson, M., Heroes: Elsa Schiaparelli, V Magazine, undated; Talbot, L., Elsa Schiaparelli's Enduring Influence on Beauty, Vogue, May 4, 2012; Elsa Schiaparelli, voguepedia, November 19, 2010)
Whatever she may have believed, her uncle Giovanni's kind words—and perceptive observation—must have embedded themselves and echoed in her memory for, years later, they exerted themselves, finding artistic expression in Mme. Schiaparelli's designs and décor: the asterism—which she adopted as a sort of personal emblem or talisman—was recreated on the chairs of her couture salon, for instance, as well as in glittering Maison Lesage embroideries (a midnight-blue silk velvet evening jacket from Schiaparelli's Spring-Summer 1937 “Zodiac” couture collection—embroidered by the firm of Lesage (then under the management of Albert and Marie-Louise Lesage)—is a prime example); more personally, in a favourite onyx brooch—designed by Jean Schlumberger—on which the position of the stars of the Big Dipper were outlined in diamonds and linked together by a gold chain. (There is an anecdote which relates that, in private, Mme. Schiaparelli used to point to the moles on her cheek and exclaim, “You see the beauty marks on my face, they are represented here in this jewel.[Quote: Murphy, R., Harper's Bazaar, April 2012:235])
(Sources: Murphy, R., Harper's Bazaar: Schiaparelli in Bazaar, April 2012; Talbot, L., Elsa Schiaparelli's Enduring Influence on Beauty, Vogue, May 4, 2012; Elsa Schiaparelli, voguepedia, November 19, 2010)

(The two photos above are by Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Getty Images ~ 1936)
Above left image, courtesy of | Above right image, courtesy of: Vogue
On her journey to England in 1913, (she went there ostensibly on an invitation to work as a nanny—a position she accepted with alacrity), Elsa, then still an impressionable twenty-two year old young woman, made a ten-day stop-over in Paris where she attended her first ball. (Having never attended a ball before in her life and finding herself unprepared and without an appropriate evening gown to don for the occasion, she purchased some dark blue material from a department store and proceeded to drape and pin the fabric around her body to create a semblance of one.) By the time the First World War erupted in 1914, Elsa, then nearly twenty-four years old, was already living in London and occupied as a nanny. She spent much of her spare time visiting museums and university lectures. It was at one of those lectures that she met a speaker, the theosophist and spiritualist, Count Wilhelm Wendt de Kerlor—a Polish aristocrat, albeit an impoverished one. It must have been love-at-first-sight—or at least some form of irresistible magnetic attraction: after their initial meeting, the Count and the young Italian married—much to the dismay and parental disapproval of the Schiaparellis—within a year of their meeting. (Years later, when she penned her autobiography, Shocking Life: The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli, Elsa related an ominous occurrence: returning home from the registry office, she found that seven mirrors had cracked—the veracity of such a claim is open for consideration but it makes for interesting lore nonetheless.) After the nuptials, the newly-weds moved to the French coastal city of  Nice, Côte d'Azur,  situated on the shores of the Mediterranean, where Count de Kerlor had family living there at the time; for a while, the couple lived on her small dowry.
A year or two later, in 1916, during a sea voyage to New York, Elsa met Gabrielle Picabia (wife of Dadaist painter Francis Picabia and owner of a boutique in New York which specialized in importing and retailing French fashions); the two women quickly became friends and, for a time, Elsa worked at Gabrielle's boutique. (By the early 1920s, Count de Kerlor was a popular and successful lecturer, often travelling on lecture tours and giving private philosophical consultations.) The socially connected Gabrielle was instrumental in introducing Elsa to artists on both sides of the Atlantic: in New York as well as in Paris, Elsa made the acquaintance of such renowned personages as Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp; Madame Picabia was also responsible for eventually introducing Madame de Kerlor to her mentor, the couturièr Paul Poiret. (Heavily influenced by Serge Diaghilev's (1872–1929) immensely successful Ballets Russes productions—first introduced to Parisian audiences in 1909 and produced every year thereafter until Diaghilev's death in Venice, Italy, in 1929—such as Schéhérazade in 1910, M. Poiret (1879-1944), affectionately known under the sobriquet of Le Magnifique, is best remembered for his heavily exotic aestheticism and love of Orientalism as well as his usage of  Oriental motifs and patterns. In 2007 and thanks largely to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, there was somewhat of a revival and a restored appreciation of M. Poiret's aesthetic when the museum presented a retrospective exhibition of Poiret's design work—the core of which was acquired by the Met when, in May of 2005, an auction of Poiret's estate was held in Paris—entitled, Poiret: King of Fashion.) While also in New York, the de Kerlors had a daughter in 1920, Maria Luisa Yvonne Radha de Wendt de Kerlor (usually known as “Marisa” or, more familiarly, “Gogo” Schiaparelli).
Whatever fires had originally attracted them together seemed to have died down—resulting in the termination of the marriage—when Count de Kerlor, a womanizer, was discovered having an affair with a friend of Elsa's, the dancer Isadora Duncan. (Sources vary as to the exact time period of the couple's separation; there is at least one claim which states that by the time of Marisa's birth in 1920, Count de Kerlor had already abandoned the family and living apart.) In 1922, after five or six years of marriage spent living in a flat on Ninth Street, in Greenwich Village, New York (three of which years Elsa tried to escape from both the city and her by-now-unhappy marriage—she spent the years of this American period working a variety of odd jobs as well as living in other parts of the United States: she “worked for the movies in New Jersey, did translations and part-time jobs for importing houses, occupied part-time habitations in Washington, Florida, Cuba, and generally tried to make two ends meet[Quote: Flanner, J., The New Yorker, June 18, 1932]), Elsa, now alone and separated from her husband, hit upon the daring plan of taking herself and her young daughter and moving to Paris. (According to Janet Flanner's 1932 profile of Mme. Schiaparelli for The New Yorker, her return to France was precipitated by a fortuitous event: “One rainy night, walking in Patchen Place, she found, miraculously, a twenty-dollar bill, at which omen her luck turned and she soon sailed for France.[Quote: Flanner, J., The New Yorker, June 18, 1932]) But sailing back to Europe across the Atlantic, there was no way for Elsa—now on her own with a young daughter in tow—to foretell or even remotely guess that America would be the launching-pad from which her future career would be propelled to stellar heights. But first, Paris of the 1920s, with all its glittering possibilities, awaited her arrival.
(Sources: Flanner, J., Comet, The New Yorker, June 18, 1932; Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003; Steiker, V., Shocking Life: The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli, Bookforum, June/July/August 2007; Elsa Schiaparelli, voguepedia, November 19, 2010; Sowray. B., Who's Who: Elsa Schiaparelli, Vogue, April 18, 2012; Koda, H., & Bolton,  A., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, September 2008)

Above left image, courtesy of: El Pais | Above right image, courtesy of: Pinterest
(Above left photo is by Teddy Piaz)
To this rare quality of creative dissatisfaction she has always added an odd gift for joining which has marked Italian cabinetmakers of the great periods and which made her style as it had made theirs. Inclined to see women as something built rather than something born, she used costumes like fine veneer, the dovetailed angles, corners, and metal trim making her seem not so much merely a dressmaker as a cunning carpenter of clothes.” ~ Janet Flanner
Schiaparelli had a penchant for dull black and stark white (this “note of chic melancholy,” this morbidezza, as Janet Flanner—the Paris correspondent of The New Yorker (whose famous articles, Letter From Paris, spanned half-a-century from 1925 to 1975 and covered everything from art, theatre, literature, politics to popular culture, were penned under the nom de plume of 'Genêt')—once termed it, stemmed mainly from the fact that, “being Roman, she was addicted to black and white...” [Quote: Flanner, J., Comet, The New Yorker, June 18, 1932])—she either dressed in one or the other or in a combination of the two colours; her Paris apartment, too, created by the equally avant-garde interior and furniture designer Jean-Michel Frank (1895–1941), reflected the designer's love of the two opposing shades. (Her collections from the late 1920s and early 1930s were also limited to a predominantly black or white palette, adhering to the (currently-prevalent) belief that the modern woman's wardrobe ought not only to be versatile and comfortable, but interchangeable, simple and carefully selected—that is to say, multi-functional and well-edited.) (Source: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003)
Elsa Schiaparelli in one of her own—(black-and-white)—designs ~ 1929
(Photo: Getty Images)
Image courtesy of: Vogue
In Paris, where she met the couturièr Paul Poiret in 1924, she earned her living working as a freelance couturière at Maison Lambal—a small, obscure dressmaking company. (It was with the encouragement of Paul Poiret—the inventor of such famous silhouettes as the “hobble skirt,” “harem pantaloons,” and “lampshade tunics”—who, initially noticing and admiring Elsa's innate sense of style and flair for fashion, that she began to work as a freelance designer. The two were introduced when, needing a dress for a society ball, Gabrielle Picabia—then back in Paris—asked Elsa to design one for her. At the ball, where he was also a guest, M. Poiret noticed Gabrielle and complimented her on her gown; he was also duly impressed enough with Mme. Picabia's dress to ask that she “compliment the designer” as well. [Quote: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003]) Although her designs for Maison Lambal were positively noted by Women’s Wear Daily in 1925, the company closed within a year due to financial difficulties.
With little money and no new prospects of work—(and after designing her own black-and-white sweater which was quickly admired and sought after by her coterie of friends)—in January 1927, Elsa presented her first collection in the attic apartment of her 20 Rue de l'Université address: geometrically-patterned as well as trompe l’oeil “Bow Tie” sweaters along with a few other outdoor sports items. In the spring of 1927, Elsa continued to present small collections, out of her apartment, which now expanded to include skirts, wool cardigan jackets and accessories. (The sweaters, which were hand-knitted by Paris-based Armenian women in her small apartment, were knitted using a technique that, unlike other sweaters of the period, ensured that the finished garments held their shape. The story of the trompe l’oeil “Bow Tie” sweater is a fascinating one, illustrating the roles of luck and timing that sometime play in the course of an individual's success: while out walking in Paris, Elsa came across a woman wearing a rather plain but unusually woven sweater which, as she later described it, had a “steady look” to it—meaning, it did not seem to stretch out and lose its shape. Upon inquiry, the intrigued Mme. Schiaparelli discovered that the sweater, which had been woven using a special double layered stitch, had been knitted by a local Armenian woman. Sensing an opportunity, Elsa shrewdly hired the Armenian knitter to create several prototypes for her; drawing a white bow design on a black background to look like a scarf had been casually tied around the neck of a sweater (“...I drew a large butterfly bow in front, like a scarf around the neck—the primitive drawing of a child in prehistoric times,” she asserted in her autobiography, Shocking Life, explaining that “the bow must be white against a black ground[Quote: Menkes, S., The New York Times, September 4, 2001]), she had the design knitted and wore the first “Bow Tie” prototype sweater to a luncheon. At that luncheon, which was attended by several fashion industry leaders, there was also—fortunately for Mme. Schiaparelli, as it turned out—a retail buyer from the New York-based department store of Lord & Taylor who immediately placed an order for forty sweaters and skirts (“The skirts were the catch. She had no idea how a commercial skirt was concocted, but was sure it was wrong”); as Janet Flanner stated in 1932, this American order, Schiaparelli's first, offered the designer her “primary recognition.” The trompe l’oeil “Bow Tie” sweater is generally acclaimed as being responsible for launching Elsa Schiapparelli's career.) The following month, the sweaters were featured in French Vogue's February issue, marking Mme. Schiaparelli's first appearance in the pages of Vogue magazine (Quotes: Flanner, J., CometThe New Yorker, June 18, 1932). Fortuna favet fortibus—Fortune favours the brave.
(Above left photo is by Man Ray ~ 1933)
Above left image, courtesy of: Tumblr | Above right image, courtesy of: Live Internet
By December of 1927, Schiaparelli, now in business with a partner—a gentleman by the name of Charles Kahn, an associate of the Galeries Lafayette, the renowned French department store—and needing a bigger space from which to work, moved out of the Rue de l'Université apartment and established her newly-founded Maison Schiaparelli in a new address (due to the financial backing of M. Kahn)—a workroom and a salon in the attics of 4 Rue de la Paix. Also in that same month, December 1927, American Vogue showcased the “Bow Tie” sweater (captioning it as “an artistic masterpiece[Quote: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003]), by illustrating it with pearls and a pleated skirt. Schiaparelli's original sweaters were an overnight sensation on both sides of the Atlantic: the sweaters were worn not only by the world's most fashionable women but were immediately purchased by American wholesalers, who copied them for mass market reproductions. Capitalizing on the success of her sweaters, Schiaparelli issued her first scent in 1928—“S”, which appeared in the July 15th issue of Vogue. In addition to her first perfume, 1928 also saw Schiaparelli expand her design repertoire: “bathing suits, beach pajamas, tweed sport suits, two-piece linen dresses, coats, and ski costumes to her collection. The sportswear she presented was very practical: sleeveless beach coats were lined with terrycloth, her beach bags unfolded into beach blankets and metal zippers on the ski costume sleeves allowed for freer arm movement(Quote: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003)—these were the first glimmers of advancements in design and future innovations to come. (Sources: Poiret: The King of Fashion, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007; Sowray. B., Who's Who: Elsa Schiaparelli, Vogue, April 18, 2012; Elsa Schiaparelli, voguepedia, November 19, 2010; Flanner, J., Comet, The New Yorker, June 18, 1932; Shocking! The Art & Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003)
The 1920s, which began with an anonymous, unhappily married Elsa Schiaparelli in New York, ended triumphantly for her when, emerging with a successfully established and rapidly growing business, Mme. Schiaparelli moved her maison de couture—atelier and salon—from the attics of the Rue de la Paix address down two floors to occupy an even larger space on the second floor, “a process of expansion which includes a modern décor of duck-egg walls and straw chairs by Jean-Michel Frank (Quote: Flanner, J., The New Yorker, June 18, 1932). If the latter part of the 1920s was any indication, the 1930s promised an even a headier ascendancy of success. 
Above, two early examples of Schiaparelli's sensational trompe l’oeil “Bow Tie” sweaters ~ 1927 (top) & 1928 (bottom)
Top image, courtesy of: Modeide | Bottom image, courtesy of: V Magazine
I like things that are whimsical, with irony and perversity. And I always loved that Schiaparelli sweater with a trompe l'oeil bow that looked like it was done with a felt tip.” ~ Marc Jacobs
Inasmuch as the 1920s began optimistically, the dawning of the 1930s—both politically and economically—promised anything but optimism. That seething decade, the Thirties, in which those increasingly troubled years accelerated headlong and plunged all of Europe, along with much of the rest of the world, into that most nightmarish episode in human history known as the Second World War, when Paris fashion—and Parisian haute joaillerie, for that matter—was at the apogee of its excellence, a golden epoch in which some of the world's most noteworthy créateurs de mode thrived (a flourishing that would not be seen or enjoyed again until after the conclusion of World War II), Elsa Schaiparelli—along with some of her more eminent colleagues—experienced her most creatively productive period. In their respective ateliers, while Mademoiselle Chanel appropriated English (men's) tweeds and jersey for the benefit of the well-to-do ladies and screen sirens who flocked to her couture salon and Madame Vionnet laboriously and patiently engineered her increasingly-complex bias cuts into satiny crêpe-de-Chine perfections—(cut at an angle of 45 degrees rather than on the straight of grain)—moulding seams slinkily around women's bodies, in her own way, Madame Schiaparelli was revolutionizing fashion—and modernizing fashion presentations as we know them today; all three couturières were arbiters of taste as well as exponents of personal style.
Daisy (Mrs. Reginald) Fellowes was a client & friend of Elsa Schiaparelli's, whose enormous 17.27-carat, rose-coloured Cartier diamond originally inspired Mme. Schiaparelli's signature colour ~ “Shocking pink”
(In this photograph by Cecil Beaton, Mrs. Fellowes wears Cartier's “Tutti Frutti” necklace, created in 1936 and assembled from a motley of coloured stones: diamonds, emeralds, sapphires & rubies.)
Image courtesy of: Disarray Magazine
Beginning in separates, sweaters and sportswear, Schiaparelli quickly branched out, evolving from strength to strength and making steady advancements in sportswear. In 1930, an American manufacturer was licensed to produce Schiaparelli's coloured hosiery; she patented a backless herringbone-knit bathing suit which had an invisibly built-in brassiere, for example; and, as has already been mentioned earlier, she created the new “divided skirt” (or culotte), daringly made famous by tennis star Lili de Alvarez for Wimbledon. Bolstered by her burgeoning success, Mme. Schiaparelli decided to diversify her repertoire and boldly stepped into the arena of evening-wear, which she introduced into her collections for the first time in 1931:  “reversible black and white gowns with draping trains that hook up under the waist for dancing(Quote: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003). These new collections for evening as well as town, attracted women of equal boldness, women who appreciated whimsy and valued innovation—a calibre of women such as those who possessed great wealth and innate chic as well as a substantial measure of confidence: Anita Loos (author of the 1925 best-selling novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady), Millicent Rogers, the Hon. (Daisy) Mrs. Reginald Fellowes, Mrs. (Mona) Harrison Williams, and Elsie, Lady Mendl; in time, that roster of clients would come to include the likes of Mrs. Wallis Simpson (Duchess of Windsor), Mrs. Diana Vreeland (editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue magazines, respectively), cinema stars Joan Crawford and Mae West, and two of Hollywood's most legendary “faces” of all time, Marlene Dietrich and the elusive Greta Garbo—these were only a few of the women who earnestly sought her designs. (Source: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003)
By 1932, Mme. Schiaparelli had opened a small boutique where she sold accessories at a slightly lower price point than that sold at the main showroom as well as ready-to-wear pieces—one of the first designers to do so. Also by this time, Schiaparelli had about four-hundred employees working from eight workshops, who “turned out from her eight ateliers between seven and eight thousand garments. All this in five years, from scratch(Quote: Flanner, J., The New Yorker, June 18, 1932). In 1933, Mme. Schiaparelli travelled to New York. On arrival there, she was besieged by reporters and photographers—Schiaparelli had, by then, become well-known to the American public, already familiar with her designs featured in such leading and widely-circulated fashion magazines as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. (Movies were also a creative outlet for Mme. Schiaparelli, acquainting the public even further with her work. By the early 1950s, Elsa Schiaparelli had created costumes for over thirty films, including Mae West's 1937 movie, Everyday's a Holiday, and the popular 1952 Zsa Zsa Gabor vehicle, Moulin Rouge.) Schiaparelli opened a London branch of her salon in 1933. Expansion also included the establishment of a millinery department in 1934. (Sources: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003; Flanner, J., CometThe New Yorker, June 18, 1932; Elsa Schiaparelli, voguepedia, November 19, 2010)
Marlene Dietrich in Schiaparelli
Image courtesy of: Le Dernier Cri
In a recent interview for V Magazine, the actress and 1970s model Marisa Berenson—(whose full name is Vittoria Marisa Schiaparelli Berenson)—granddaughter of the notable Art historian and collector, Bernard Berenson, spoke of Elsa Schiaparelli, her maternal grandmother, recalling her grandmother's distaste of her name as well as her reluctance to speak of her past: “She never spoke to me about her work or her life, and she hated to be called grandmother. She never wanted anybody to call her 'Elsa,' because she didn’t like her name, so her friends called her 'Schiap,' and my sister and I did too(Quote: Berenson, M., Heroes: Elsa Schiaparelli, V Magazine, undated). But not everyone was an admirer or a friend of “Schiap's;” not everyone was ready, much less willing, to extend fulsome praise; not everyone cared enough to either call her by name, nickname or, for that matter, by any other moniker of endearment. One formidable detractor—another determinedly driven woman and fellow couturière—in particular, called her something entirely different—and not wholly flattering.

The enmity between Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and Elsa “Schiap” Schiaparelli was as legendary as that which existed between film actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford—in both cases, it was a rivalry between two fiercely ambitious, arrantly egotistical women at the pinnacle of their careers. Although both women moved within the same social circles (both, for example, collaborated with Jean Cocteau), the antagonism between the two couturières was unmistakable, extending beyond mere differences of their modus operandi and schools of thought (where Mlle. Chanel (1883-1971), a rigid classicist who favoured serious but minimal simplicity with an insistence on ease and practicality, viewed dressmaking as a profession, Mme. Schiaparelli, on the other hand, regarded it as a light-hearted yet conceptual art-form, blithely revelling in excessive embellishments and illusionary trompe l'oeil effects). In view of the cattily hurled insults, it can be confidently surmised that the two loathed one another: “Coco” referred to Schiaparelli as “that Italian artist who makes clothes,” while “Schiap” retaliated by roundly dismissing Chanel as “that milliner.
(Quotes: Armstrong, L., Daily Telegraph/The Vancouver Sun, July 17, 2012)
Schiap outmoded Chanel, who herself had created a fashion revolution. Suddenly, people had had enough of dressing like a gypsy or in soft little Chanel suits. Schiap modernized fashion with an architectural line.” ~ Hubert de Givenchy

But animosity between rivals is not necessarily a negative attribute—derogatory insults not withstanding; it can foster and even propel creativity, especially if it exits between equally-matched, consummate competitors. Among her other contributions, Mlle. Chanel gave women the “little black dress” (along with the chic novelty of mixing strands of real pearls—and other precious jewels—with inexpensive faux ones), now a standard in every woman's wardrobe, while Mme. Schiaparelli, with her padded square-shouldered suits and smart—and brazenly eccentric, sometimes absurd—hats, could be said to have furnished women with the original “power suit.” Nor did the icy relations between the two couturières thaw when, in (August) 1934, Time magazine placed Mme. Schiaparelli squarely on its cover, anointing her as one of the most influential designers in the world. (Having tasted phenomenal success—and failure as, without exception, every designer experiences—it nonetheless must have rankled Mlle. Chanel, had she been a reader of the weekly news magazine, to see Schiaparelli's “instantly popular” designs acclaimed by Time, which denoted the fact that they were copied from “the Champs-Elysees and Manhattan's Park Avenue.[Quote: Life in Italy])
(Sources: Armstrong, L., Don't call her the muse of SchiaparelliDaily Telegraph/The Vancouver Sun, July 17, 2012; Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003; Life in Italy)
The August 1934 Time cover
Though her fame continues to spread, one thing keeps Schiaparelli, now in her middle thirties, from becoming the very smartest of the Paris dressmakers. Her designs are too easy to copy. The mutton sleeves and tray shoulders which she sponsored last year were instantly popular on the Champs-Élysées and Manhattan's Park Avenue. But it was not long before every little dress factory in Manhattan had copied them and from New York's 3rd Avenue to San Francisco's Howard Street millions of shop girls who had never heard of Schiaparelli were proudly wearing her models.”
Image courtesy of: LADYBLITZ | 1934 Time Magazine quote, courtesy of : Life in Italy

It can also be said that from her earliest foray into the world of Paris fashion—and since establishing her own maison de couturefragrances played an integral role throughout Elsa Schiaparelli's career; from the beginning, she seems to have understood the marketing value—(what is today called 'brand' or 'branding' power)—and cachet of designer perfumes: in all, over fifty scents would be launched under her name, most of which had names that habitually began with the letter 'S' (see complete list at Fragrance Ads). Invariably, Hungarian artist Marcel Vertès was commissioned to illustrate Schiaparelli's scents, often making a series of different illustration ads for each new scent. The talents of artists and designers such as Salvador Dalí and Jean-Michel Frank were also called upon to create the perfume flacons. But it was in 1937 that Schiaparelli's best-known fragrance, Shocking de Schiaparelli, was introduced as a complement accessory fragrant to Schiaparelli's “Shocking Pink” clothing line. (The bottle was originally crafted in Czechoslovakia.)

Intended as a night-time fragrance that was meant to be used just before going to bed and intended to help “illuminate the subconscious and light the way to ecstasy(Quote: Vertès, M., Fragrance Ads, undated), Sleeping de Schiaparelli was issued in 1939. The design for Sleeping's bottle was conceived by Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) and was presented in a candle-shaped bottle with several illustrations by Marcel Vertès. (Vertès and Schiaparelli also collaborated together in 1952 on Moulin Rouge.) The perfume came in turquoise-blue packaging called Sleeping Bluea prominent colour in Schiaparelli's 1940 collection. Le Roy Soleil (1946), a bottle again designed by Salvador Dalí and made by Cristalleries de Baccarat was created as an ode to the reign of Louis XIV—the stopper was in the shape of a blazing sun face and the ads featured an enthroned sun in full royal regalia—and as a celebration for the ending of World War II. Another of Schiaparelli's popular perfumes, Succès Fou de Schiaparelli (which roughly translates to “raving success” or “smash hit”) a leaf-shaped bottle designed by Michel de Brunhoff—Paris Vogue magazine's editor-in-chief from 1929 to 1954—was created in 1952 (made available in the United States in 1953) with the charming advertisement illustrations of artist and designer Raymond Peynet (1908-1999), creator of “Les Amoureux de Peynet” series—first developed in 1942 while he was stationed in Valence in the Rhone valley during the war—and known throughout France (and beyond) in the 1950s and 1960s.

But such was the success of her perfumes that, long after Elsa Schiaparelli had closed her House, Parfums Schiaparelli—which had become a separate entity by 1938—continued to create and issue new scents.
(Sources: Fragrance Ads, undated; Elsa Schiaparelli, voguepedia, November 19, 2010)
Above left, Elsa with Salvador Dalí ~ (notice the Jean Schlumberger-designed “Big Dipper” brooch)
Above right, Mme. Schiaparelli with model ca. 1950 ~ (photo by Cordon Press)
The two images above are courtesy of: El Pais
Ink drawing by Salvador Dalí over a photo of a model wearing an astronomical necklace of Galalith stars from Schiaparelli's Spring-Summer 1929 collection.
(Photo by Horst P. Horst: Baltimore Museum of Art)
Image courtesy of: The Jewelry Loupe

It could be argued that it was during the mid- to late-Thirties that Mme. Schiaparelli's momentum peaked at its zenith. For one thing, the premises at  4 Rue de la Paix could no longer accommodate the every-expanding growth of Maison Schiapparelli; thus, in 1935, Schiaparelli's headquarters were relocated to the more prestigious address of 21 Place Vendôme (a sprawling new location that was staggeringly comprised of ninety-eight rooms which included three showrooms, offices and workrooms) near the Paris Ritz Hôtel (not far from Coco Chanel's own headquarters and lavish apartment at 31 Rue Cambon as well as her privately-appointed, permanent suite at the Ritz)—the new space was inaugurated by Schiaparelli's 1935 presentation of the “Stop Look and Listen,” a collection which “declared that the strict Modernism that had defined the previous collections would be refocused to reflect the current political, social, and artistic changes in Europe. In celebration, Schiaparelli designed a fabric printed with a collage of her press clippings, created in the spirit of Pablo Picasso's and Georges Braque's paper collages. For the rest of the decade, in fact, many of the couturière's designs would be linked with the work of contemporary artists(Quote: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003). The first floor of the Place Vendôme headquarters was turned into a boutique—“Schiap Shop”—the first of its kind. The “Stop Look and Listen” collection was noted for its memorable (printed) textiles: to celebrate the new location and the opening of the boutique, Mme. Schiaparelli designed cotton and silk fabrics printed with her own press clippings to create, as she put it in Shocking Life, her 1954 autobiography, “blouses, scarves, hats, and all kinds of bathing nonsense”—“70 years before John Galliano revived the idea at Dior” (Quotes: Menkes, S., The New York Times, September 4, 2001). (As Suzy Menkes has rightly pointed out, decades later famed British designer John Galliano would adopt the same idea and similarly create fabrics with his 'Galliano' newsprint clippings for his eponymous collections along with those for Christian Dior.) Later that year, in June of 1935, Vogue magazine featured Schiaparelli's three perfume novelties, introduced a year earlier in 1934—Salut de Schiaparelli for evening, Soucis de Schiaparelli for town, and Schiap for sports—(all three bottles were designed by Jean-Michel Frank). (Sources: Fragrance Ads; Menkes, S., Unseasonable Lightness in the Spirit of Schiaparelli: Casting a Sly Wink at Autumn, The New York Times, September 4, 2001).

For Autumn 1935, “Schiaparelli created Indian-influenced [sari] gowns and wraps, inspired by a visit from the fourteen-year-old Indian princess Karam of Kapurthala's [official] visit to Paris the summer before.”
According to Dilys Blum, curator of the 2003 Schiaparelli retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, “the motif of Madonna lilies on this [bias-cut black rayon noile] dress alludes to Schiaparelli's recently launched 'Salut [de Schiaparelli]' perfume [released in 1934].”
The above two images & quote are courtesy of: The Museum at FIT

And that is probably the reason for the extraordinarily creative and highly imaginative collections of the mid- to late-Thirties: Elsa Schiaparelli's collaboration with several artists (Jean Cocteau, Christian Bérard, and Alberto Giacometti among them)—but Salvador Dalí, most prominently, with whom she closely worked to create perfume bottles, fabric prints, and hats. A clue to many of Schiaparelli's surrealistic designs are the precepts of René Magritte's thesis which declared that “an object never fulfills the same function as its name or its image(Quote: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003). Seen in that regard, a shoe is not merely footwear but an object that can readily metamorphose into a hat—though, admittedly, an unconventional one—expensive dresses could be printed with 'tears' or 'rips,' and buttons (and other such closures and clips) can range in such diverse shapes from Commedia dell'arte masks to lips, hands, circus acrobats and even lamb chops.

And so, even Schiaparelli's collections became thematic, each exploring a specific idea: “Music” and “Paris 1937” in 1937, the aforementioned “Zodiac,” along with “Pagan” and “Circus” in 1938 (which Elsa called her “most riotous and swaggering collection[Quote: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003]) and, in the spring of 1939, as the clouds of war ominously gathered and loomed over much of Europe, “Commedia dell' Arte” (a show which was set to the strains of Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Pergolese, and Cimarosawith with an emphasis on harlequin patchwork and embroideries—“it represented Schiaparelli's response to the deteriorating political situation in Europe.” [Source & quote: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 2011]). Thus, with such unique collections—set to dramatic backdrops, lighting and music, which today would be unthinkable to stage a fashion show without—it is not difficult to form an idea of the attraction that Schiaparelli's designs held for women. As Bettina Ballard, a former editor at Vogue, once succinctly described the Elsa Schiaparelli client:  “A Schiaparelli customer did not have to worry as to whether she was beautiful or not—she was a type. She was noticed wherever she went, protected by an armour of amusing conversation-making smartness. Her clothes belonged to Schiaparelli more than they belonged to her—it was like borrowing someone else's chic and, along with it, their assurance.” (Quote: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003)

Head of Nefertiti with jewellery by Schiaparelli
(Photo by Madame Yevonde ~ 1935: The British Council, London)
Image courtesy of: The Jewelry Loupe

For her Autumn 1939 collection, Elsa Schiaparelli cleverly concealed music boxes (tucked) in hats, bags, and belts which serenaded the audience as her models walked by and she carried the 'musical' theme further by embroidering “youthful dance dresses with gently flaring skirts” with musical instruments or bars of music. For the Winter 1939-1940 collection, presented on August 3rd, Mme. Schiaparelli “exchanged the full skirts for sleek, smoothly fitting 'cigarette' silhouettes, worn by the designer herself. Exactly one month to the day after the winter presentation, France and Great Britain declared war on Germany. The couture houses immediately responded with chic air-raid shelter ensembles such as Schiaparelli's one-piece, zippered jumpsuit designed for quick dressing during an evacuation(Quotes: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003). In 1939, as the Thirties drew to a close, Elsa Schiaparelli closed down the London branch of her operations. (Sources: Reeder, J., The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 2011; Elsa Schiaparelli, voguepedia, November 19, 2010; Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003)


Image courtesy of: Daniela Ferrari

“...a frock from Schiaparelli ranks like a modern canvas in boudoirs determined to be à la page.” ~ Janet Flanner
(Above left photo is by Irving Penn ~ 1948 | Above right photo is by Man Ray ~ 1934)
Elsa Schiaparelli in an evening gown of her own design, with painted details by Jean Dunand” 
Above left image: Voguepedia | Above right image & quote: Harper's Bazaar


Following the invasion of Poland (on September 1st, 1939), France and England jointly declared war on Germany two days later on September 3rd. This was the beginning of the Second World War. It was an anxious time for everyone; even Paris—once the glamorous centre of cultural and social life—was not immune. Though at first things continued as before—with collections still being presented in the great couture salons, though much smaller in size and, as One can likely imagine, in a tense atmosphere heavy with uncertainty and anxiety—Parisian designers responded to the new reality: many French designers were obliged to reduce their staff and employee numbers plummeted as a result. Maison Schiaparelli, once an employer of six-hundred workers and craftspeople at the height of its operations, dwindled to one-hundred-and-fifty in number. Not surprisingly, in October of 1939, Schiaparelli's presentation was half its usual size (shown “as a matter of prestige to prove to oneself that one was still at work,” as she later recalled). Mme. Schiaparelli responded to the circumstances by providing women with utilitarian styles: convenient, over-sized “cash and carry” pockets in lieu of handbags and, with the new fabric shortages and rationing in effect, she ingeniously created an evening gown composed of “giant scarves printed with French regimental flags.” For her spring 1940 collection, Elsa Schiaparelli showed a military-themed collection in a palette of “trench” browns and camouflage-printed taffetas (Quotes: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003). (Jean Paul Gaultier's  “Dubar” ruffled camouflage-motif tulle gown—from the designer's Spring/Summer 2000 Romantic India Haute Couture Collection—springs immediately to mind.)

In the early hours on the morning of June 14th, 1940, as the French and allied forces retreated, German troops marched into Paris and the occupation of the French capital began; four days later, on the 18th,  Mme. Schiaparelli, who had already left France before the arrival of the Germans, disembarked in New York to begin what would turn out to be a successful thirty-city lecture tour entitled, Clothes Make the Woman.” While on tour in the United States, Mme. Schiaparelli received the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award for “her daring, originality, and ingenuity(Quote:  voguepedia, November 19, 2010). Once her tour concluded, Schiaparelli returned to France in January of 1941 to oversee her business. However, by May the situation had become so dangerous that she decided to return to America again—there she remained for the duration of the war. (In Schiaparelli's absence, her Paris salon was managed by Irene Dana who, “after February 1942, worked under a German administrator.[Quote: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003]) Between 1941 and 1945, as she spent those years out of Europe and in America, Mme. Schiaparelli was offered design contracts; out of loyalty to France and to the struggling French fashion industry, she declined all offers. But she did not remain idle: instead and to her credit, Elsa Schiaparelli volunteered as a nurse's aid as well as organizing concerts and exhibitions.

One of those exhibitions she helped to organize—which included  working with Marcel Duchamp and André Breton—was the October 1942 First Papers of Surrealism in New York—the show was held in the opulent ballroom of the Whitelaw Reid mansion on Madison Avenue at Fiftieth Street. (First Papers of Surrealism was one of two shows presented, one week apart from one another, dedicated to exhibiting Surrealism in exile, “and both representing key examples of the avant-garde's forays into installation art.[Quote: Demos, T. J., MIT Press Journals, Summer 2001]) First Papers of Surrealism brought together almost fifty artists from various countries (ironically, most of whom were presently either at war with each other or about to be): France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and the United States. In the centre of the exhibition was Duchamp's “labyrinthine string installation that dominated the gallery, conceived by Marcel Duchamp, who had arrived in New York from Marseilles in June of that year” (Quote: Demos, T. J., MIT Press Journals, Summer 2001).
(Sources: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003; Elsa Schiaparelli, voguepedia, November 19, 2010; Demos, T. J.,  Duchamp's Labyrinth: First Papers of Surrealism, 1942MIT Press Journals, Summer 2001)


Paris editor of Harper's Bazaar in the 1930s, Daisy, Mrs. Reginald Fellowes, in Schiaparelli ~ 1933
(Harper’s Bazaar/Hearst Communications, Inc.)
The Hon. Mrs. Reginald Fellowes was the granddaughter of Isaac Merritt Singer (1811-1875), founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company—Daisy was the daughter of Isabelle-Blanche Singer & Jean, Duc de Decazes (Source: JewAge).
Image courtesy of: Tiger Magazine

A good fashion is a daring fashion, not a polite one” ~ Daisy Fellowes
 As the heiress to the American Singer Sewing Machine fortune, Daisy Fellowes, who, according to Jean Cocteau, “launched more fashions than any other woman in the world,” was one of the wealthiest, best-dressed women of her era; her wealth, however, did not prevent the famously witty & supremely elegant socialite from wearing the same dress on more than one occasion. Such is the case with the 1938 Empire-line Schiaparelli evening ensemble above, which Mrs. Fellowes wore on at least two official functions: a reception given by King George VI & Queen Elizabeth of England at the Palais de l'Élysée on July 19th, 1938, and at the court presentation of her daughter in March of 1939.
(Source, quotes & the two images above are courtesy of: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
With the unconditional surrender of Germany and the Axis powers in May 1945, the lengthy Second World War had finally come to an end. (On May the 8th, 1945, the Allies accepted Germany's surrender and Winston Churchill announced Victory in Europe—or VE—Day; a week later, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his underground bunker.) Elsa Schiaparelli returned to France sometime after that. On her return, she presented her first post-war collection on September 13th, 1945. Although she continued to re-work old themes such as the bustle and asymmetrical cuts, the war had radically changed not only the physical landscape of Europe but the fashion landscape along with it. Many of the pre-war couture Houses had closed their doors as the war began; many still remained shuttered—some never to re-open again. 
Those Houses that did re-open rallied together and, in 1946, in an effort to revitalize and promote Parisian fashion once more, sent their creations—in miniature samples on legions of doll-sized mannequins—on a world tour: “Théâtre de la Mode.” In 1947, the (now retired) couturièr Hubert de Givenchy who, as a youth in his early twenties, began his apprenticeship at Maison Schiaparelli—lasting from 1947 to 1951. (In an interview with Robert Murphy for Harper's Bazaar (April 2012), not too long ago, M. de Givenchy remembered that post-war period when he began his apprenticeship: “Surrealism was finished by then. When I arrived at the house and saw her wearing two different color shoes, I said to myself, 'How can a woman with so much talent not understand that that is all over?' But she persisted in her ideas. And in the end, she was right. Her fashion was very modern. It wasn't unwearable. It was daring. And never vulgar.[Quote: Murphy, R., Harper's Bazaar, April 2012:235])
In that same interview for Harper's Bazaar, M. de Givenchy also recalled Mme. Schiaparelli's unorthodox method of working, diverging from how other designers and ateliers traditionally worked—and, to a certain extent, most still do: Her way of working was singular. For someone like myself, who was trained classically, sketching and designing, it was disconcerting to work with her. She would flip through a book and find, say, a picture of an Egyptian princess. The atelier then interpreted that. Her instructions were always very vague. Once the atelier had done their interpretation, Schiap would redo it, pulling things off and putting things on. It became her own(Quote: Murphy, R., Harper's Bazaar, April 2012:234). (After the resignation of M. de Givenchy in 1951, Philippe Venet was named as the new assistant designer at Maison Schiaparelli.) (Sources: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003; Elsa Schiaparelli, voguepedia, November 19, 2010; Murphy, R., Harper's Bazaar: Schiaparelli in Bazaar, April 2012)

Above left, Wallis, Duchess of Windsor (photo by Cecil Beaton) ~ Vogue, 1937
Above right, Diana Vreeland (photo by Louise Dahl-Wolfe) ~ Harper’s Bazaar, 1937
The above two images are courtesy of: Glam You
The way is open to everybody who has the will, the ambition, the respect for work, and the IT.” ~ Elsa Schiaparelli
The latter part of the 1940s saw another paradigm shift in fashion—and taste. In 1946, with the financial backing of Marcel Boussac, Christian Dior (1905-1957) founded his new maison de couture in a private house at 30 Avenue Montaigne, where it remains to this day. (M. Boussac funded M. Dior with what, at that time, was an unprecedented budget amount of 60 million francs to found his new House.) On February 12th, 1947,  Christian Dior presented his ninety-piece spring début collection on six mannequins. At the time of M. Dior's début, “Clothes were still scarce and women wore the sharp-shouldered suits with knee-length skirts that they had cobbled together as makeshift wartime versions of Elsa Schiaparelli’s slinky 1930s silhouette(Quote: Design Museum; undated). Fashion—and haute couture in particular—was still in a state of doldrums; what was needed after the long and bleak war years was excitement—and a new, invigorating sense of glamour. With its “Corolle” and “Huit” lines—and the “Bar” suit, later rechristened the “New Look”—Christian Dior's collection delivered the much-needed (and anticipated) excitement, hitherto lacking for so many years. With its full skirts, softly padded, rounded shoulders and nipped in wasp-waist, the New Look was unlike anything that had been seen before—it instantly displaced and made obsolete everything before its inception. (The epithet, “New Look,” was coined by Carmel Snow, editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar who exclaimed,  “It’s quite a revelation dear Christian. Your dresses have such a new look.” [Quote: Design Museum; undated])
With a devastated France left in ruins by the war—half-a-million buildings were destroyed—Dior was the perfect antidote: the newly defined feminine Dior 'Look' utterly encapsulated the new mood of the new era; it was the unequivocal demarcation line between the past and the future course of fashion.
(Sources: Christian Dior Finances, undated; Design Museum; undated)
Above left image, courtesy of: 109Blog | Above right image, courtesy of: Vogue
(The two photos of Wallis Simpson are by Cecil Beaton & featured in the June 1st, 1937, issue of Vogue)
Above left & right, the “Lobster Dress” as it was worn by Wallis Simpson (the future Duchess of Windsor), here seen in the garden of the Château de Candé, just prior to her marriage to the newly-created Duke of Windsor.
Above, the iconic 1937 Schiaparelli/Salvador Dalí hand-painted silk organdy “Lobster Dress”
Image courtesy of: V Magazine

The oversized lobster on this dress is strangely out of place on such a romantic and feminine gown. The odd juxtaposition between evening gown and sea creature was certainly not an accident. Many of Schiaparelli’s designs were both shocking and humorous. The Lobster motif was a result of a collaboration with Salvador Dalí who had been employing lobsters in his artwork for years, as in his famous Lobster Telephone from 1936. In spring 1937, Schiaparelli asked Dalí to design a lobster as a decoration for a white organdy evening gown. The dress was made famous when it appeared in Vogue magazine modeled by Wallis Simpson.”

With the entire world seemingly besotted with the “New Look” of Christian Dior, the late Forties must have seemed a little unnerving, a bit bewildering—perhaps even disconcerting—to couturières such as Elsa Schiaparelli who, having once been centre stage in the theatre of fashion, suddenly found themselves edged out to the peripheral, sidelined by a whole new generation of young designers.
To remain viable and to keep her business from going completely aground, Mme. Schiaparelli resorted to what many designers do in uncertain times and when faced with financial difficulty: sign licensing deals with manufacturers for products that bear their names or name brands. In Schiaparelli's case, it was to the United States and the American market that she now turned once more. Bonwit Teller & Co. in New York—(a high-quality ladies' apparel store that was founded by Paul J. Bonwit in 1907; by 1989, the company had bankrupted and the site was eventually demolished in May 1990 by Donald Trump in order to build his new Trump Tower)—began an exclusive contract in 1948 whereby the Fifth Avenue (at 38th Street) department store carried Schiaparelli's sheer, brightly colored stockings. (At around this time, Schiaparelli devised one shade of red known as “Stunning Red” which was translated into hosiery that perfectly matched a “Stunning Red” shade of lipstick.) The next year, 1949, Mme. Schiaparelli opened Schiaparelli Tailleurs on Seventh Avenue, a manufacturer of coats and suits adapted specifically to outfit the American customer. By 1953, no less than eleven “American companies, staffed with their own designers, were producing clothing, accessories, and jewelry with the shocking pink-and-white label 'Schiaparelli Paris'(Quote: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003). It was also in 1949 that Parfums Schiaparelli launched Zut!—a term that roughly translates into “Damn” in French—a scent created by perfumer Nathalie Feishauer of Givaudan-Roure. As with other of her perfumes, Marcel Vertès was again hired to create a series of advertisement illustrations for this latest Schiaparelli perfume. (Sources: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003; Elsa Schiaparelli, voguepedia, November 19, 2010; Fragrance Ads, undated)
The above four images are courtesy of: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Above, the Maison Lesage-embroidered “Apollo of Versailles” cape, from the Zodiac Collection, Autumn/Winter 1938-1939 ~ gifted by the estate of Lady Mendl, 1951
 The  “Apollo of Versailles” cape as it was worn by Elsie de Wolfe (Lady Mendl)
In a sui generis gesture to one client, this velvet cape for Lady Mendl refers to her taste for eighteenth-century style and the spectacular, and celebrates the Apollo Fountain and its proximity to her house in the Parc de Varsailles.”
Image courtesy of: Urban Kaleidoscope

In 1950, Mme. Schiaparelli purchased a new home in Hammamet, Tunisia; in 1952, Schiaparelli's designer eyeglass collection was licensed—the previous year (1951), Schiaparelli débuted a line of sunglasses (fringed with black cellophane lashes). In these the twilight years of Maison Schiaparelli, licensing deals continued to be the staples of and sources of income for the House: a menswear line was inaugurated in 1953 along with a new line of mix-and-match separates. (In spite of her licensing contracts—which also included a massedly-produced line of jewellery—and besides the fact that her separately organized perfume business flourished, Maison Schiaparelli found itself in a grim and precarious financial situation—her final collection was presented on February 3rd, 1953. In another one of life's ironies, two days after Mme. Schiaparelli's final collection was shown, her rival, Mlle. Chanel, after a fifteen-year absence, presented her comeback collection at the age of seventy, signalling her return; this first post-war Chanel couture collection was not a critical success by any stretch of the imagination but within three seasons, Mlle. Chanel was once more regarded with respect and new-found acclaim. However, Chanel—as with Schiaparelli and other old-garde couturières from before the war—had to first contend with the entrenched celebrity and adulation of Christian Dior and the prevalence of his form of femininity.) Then in 1954, Mme. Schiaparelli published her autobiography, Shocking Life: The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli, which detailed her life and career “in her own characteristic English,” as her publisher—E.P. Dutton & Co.—declared upon its publication (Quote: Lerman, L., The New York Times, October 17, 1954). But the timely publication of her autobiography must have been bitter-sweet—by the end of that year, 1954, Mme. Schiaparelli declared bankruptcy and closed her House after twenty-seven years of operation—her aesthetic had simply gone out of fashion; she retired to her home in Tunisia—she still maintained her luxurious apartment in Paris as well—from where she not only continued to consult and make decisions on her multiple licensing deals but received visits from friends and celebrities alike. In her retirement, she travelled extensively around the world, attended all the major fashion shows, and enjoyed concerts and the theatre.
Following a stroke shortly after her eighty-third birthday which left her unconscious and in a coma for several weeks, Elsa Schiaparelli passed away on November 13th, 1973. She was reportedly buried in her signature colour, Shocking pink, and her gravestone emblazoned with her scrolling signature in gold. 
(Sources: Elsa Schiaparelli, voguepedia, November 19, 2010; Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003; Sowray, B., Who's Who: Elsa Schiaparelli, Vogue, April 18, 2012)

 Above left, the “insect necklace” by Jean Clément ~ Autumn-Winter 1938 “Pagan” Collection
Above right, a Lesage-embroidered “Cocteau” evening linen jacket ~ Autumn-Winter 1937
Both images above are courtesy of: Live Internet


Looking back over the Harper's Bazaars and Vogues of the Thirties, the hard, highly individual chic of [Schiaparelli's] clothes stands out from the pages like a beacon.” ~ Bettina Ballard

'Torn' (or 'ripped') evening dress & veil, in collaboration with Salvador Dalí ~ 1938

Suede & monkey fur boots inspired by René Magritte & created by André Perugia for Elsa Schiaparelli ~ Summer 1938

Coat ~ Autumn 1953
The above three images are courtesy of: V Magazine

She is responsible for the feeling of spontaneous youth that has crept into everything.” ~ Vogue, 1935


(Photo by Regina Relang ~ 1951)
Image courtesy of: Pleasurephoto

(Above left photo is by Horst P. Horst ~ 1946 | Above right photo is by Erwin Blumenfeld ~ 1950)
Above left image, courtesy of: Tumblr | Above right image, courtesy of: We Had Faces Then

Red satin evening “Eye” hat ~ ca. 1949
(Photo is provided by dovima_is_devine_II [Christine])
Image courtesy of:

Although Schiaparelli left the world of haute couture in 1954 and died in 1973, her legacy continues to this day. The looks she created more than a half-century ago have become an integral part of mainstream clothing design, so much so that her influence is not always recognized. Always ahead of her time, Schiaparelli revolutionized fashion by giving it a modern sensibility and relevance; she took fashion out of the closet and turned it into 'dressing with attitude'.”
(Quote: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003)
It appears that Schiaparelli's legacy will materialize in another, more concrete form. In 2006, Diego Della Valle, owner of Tod's, Hogan and the Roger Vivier brands, added one more purchase to his collection, that of Maison Schiaparelli. Although a designer has yet to be appointed as creative director, in May, Mr. Della Valle announced veteran model Farida Khelfa as the House's muse and spokeswoman—the title of 'muse' is a familiar one to Ms. Khelfa who has, in the past, closely collaborated with and inspired such eminent designers as Azzedine Alaïa and Jean Paul Gaultier. (The proposition came via telephone: Mr. Della Valle called Ms. Khelfa and inquired “whether she'd be interested in helping him spearhead 2012's most eagerly awaited fashion revival.[Quote: Armstrong, L., Telegraph, July 4, 2012]) More recently, Camilla Schiavone, formerly brand manager of L’Oréal’s fragrance division, has also joined the team when she was designated as chief executive officer.
Centred at Mme. Schiaparelli's original headquarters on the Place Vendôme (No. 21), which overlook the square and its Napoleon-topped Vendôme Column (Colonne de la Grande Armée), the newly revived couture salons will occupy the third floor, while the fourth and fifth floors will be dedicated to offices and ateliers (currently still under construction); the first collection—reputedly a small one—from Maison Schiaparelli is expected to be unveiled during Paris Couture Week in January 2013. (Sources: Armstrong, L., Farida Khelfa: Schiaparelli's new muse, Telegraph, July 4, 2012; Socha, M., Schiaparelli Opens Paris Couture Salons, WWD, July 2, 2012)


Image courtesy of:

It is alleged that, for all her inventiveness, Elsa Schiaparelli neither sketched her designs nor was she able to sew (Murphy, R., Harper's Bazaar, April 2012:232), yet that did not hinder her influence on fashion or fashion creators to resonate, even to this day. Yves Saint Laurent's great love of Art (along with his near-obsession with the literary works of Marcel Proust) are well-known; in their heyday, his thematic collections—a Schiaparelli invention—were based not only on the youthful beat of the streets but, on occasion, also on a particular artist's work (Matisse, Mondrian and Picasso, among others). As one instance (and what has turned out to be one of the most memorable collections of his long career), Yves Saint Laurent's 1988 Spring-Summer Haute Couture Collection, which the designer dedicated as a tribute to the work of Georges Braque (see: Denver Art Museum's Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective), not only paid homage to the Cubist artist, but also to Schiaparelli's infusion of Art with fashion—or, rather, Art-as-fashion/fashion-as-Art in which the overlapping spheres of fashion, Art and design are seamlessly combined. For that collection, M. Saint Laurent created dresses and capes that incorporated three-dimensional Braque-inspired elements based on Braque's paper collages—beaded doves and musical instruments—that seemed to take wing. (That same collection, 1988 Spring-Summer Haute Couture, also saw M. Saint Laurent interpret another artist's work into wearable fashion: Vincent Van Gogh's iconic paintings of sunflowers and irises, which were spectacularly executed into Lesage-embroidered-and-beaded jackets. Incidentally, M. François Lesage, the preeminent Parisian embroiderer who passed away at the respectable age of eighty-two on December 1st, 2011, once recalled watching Yves Saint Laurent “going through Schiaparelli 1930s surrealist embroideries in the studio stock of 65,000 samples. [Quote & source: Menkes, S., A Master of Embroidery Remembered, The New York Times, December 12, 2011])

But M. Saint Laurent was not the only distinguished designer to be influenced by Madame Schiaparelli's method of melding Art and fashion. For his exuberant—even fearless—mixture of vibrant colours and disparate patterns, it can also be said that Christian Lacroix was a close follower of Madame Schiaparelli's design philosophy, often using, as M. Saint Laurent did, a variation of that trademark “Shocking” pink she pioneered and was so famous for—(M. Lacroix's scent, C'est la vie, utilizes a very similar “Schiaparelli” pink in its packaging and advertisements). (Indeed, Mme. Schiaparelli is credited with the introduction of bright colours into the staid world of couture where solemnly sedate shades of brown, black, navy, and gray had hitherto prevailed.) (In her 1954 autobiography, Shocking Life, Elsa Schiaparelli gave a description of her discovery of that particular shade of magenta, which came to be known as “Shocking” or—alternatively—“Schiaparelli” pink. According to Mme. Schiaparelli, she became fascinated by the colour after seeing an enormous 17.27-carat, rose-coloured Cartier diamond once owned by her socialite friend and client, Mrs. Daisy Fellowes. She described the jewel's scintillating colour as being “bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life-giving, like all the light and the birds and the fish in the world put together, a colour of China and Peru but not of the Westa shocking colour, pure and undiluted.[Quote & sources: Sowray, B., Who's Who: Elsa Schiaparelli, Vogue, April 18, 2012; Elsa Schiaparelli, voguepedia, November 19, 2010])

Stephen Jones, milliner
My favourite couturier is Elsa Schiaparelli. She combined art and fashion, making fantastic hats. She saw clothes as entertainment, how I see fashion.”
Quote & image courtesy of: A Cut Above: Stephen Jones | Hunger TV


In terms of sheer innovation (and a talent for conceptual design), however, perhaps none can more validly claim to be Madame Schiaparelli's heir than the last Parisian couturièr working today: Jean Paul Gaultier. M. Gaultier's effervescent personality and his inimitable ability to take a traditionally-cut and tailored suit, coat, or dress, deconstruct its elements to their barest minimum and then completely reconfigure it in a way that is not only delightfully witty but ingeniously novel, is reminiscent of Mme. Schiaparelli's own irreverent design principles; as with Mme. Schiaparelli, it has earned him legions of fans and admirers worldwide. (In the 1980s, M. Gaultier's avant-garde and amusing shows were so highly sought after that they often had the atmosphere of Rock concerts with throngs of people milling outside the shows' venues, scheming for a chance—legitimate or otherwise—to be admitted; with every seat occupied, his shows—which pushed the boundaries of fashion and tasteful artistic expression to their limits—were always standing-room only.) (For a comprehensive photographic review of M. Gaultier's retrospective exhibition, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, organized by and originally held at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal) in cooperation with Maison Jean Paul Gaultier—presented at the de Young Museum in San Francisco earlier this year from March 24th, 2012 to August 19th, 2012—see U Me Us Studios.)

Nineteen years ago, when M. Gaultier introduced his first (women's) perfume—initially named Jean Paul Gaultier EDP but its title was subsequently changed to Classique—the shape of the flask bore a passing resemblance to Mme. Schiaparelli's  1937 Shocking de Schiaparelli: the female form in the shape of a dressmaker's mannequin or dress-form—Schiaparelli's even came with a miniature tailor's measuring tape, draped around the neck and crossed over the bottle's torso to fasten at the “waist.” (Compare Jean Paul Gaultier Classique—the first of sixty-one fragrance editions released to date; it was launched in 1993 and was followed, two years later, by Le Mâle, a men's cologne, in 1995 [source: Fragrantica]—with Elsa Schiaparelli's 1937 Shocking perfume flask, sculpted by the Surrealist artist Léonor Fini and which was famously based on Hollywood siren Mae West's voluptuous hour-glass  silhouette. The inspiration for the bottle's design was derived from the life-size plaster cast that Ms. West sent to Mme. Schiaparelli's atelier in lieu of personal fittings—the couturière was creating costumes for the 1937 musical-comedy film Every Day's a Holiday, directed by A. Edward Sutherland. [Sources: FIDM Museum & Galleries; Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003]) (Along with fellow artist Marcel Vertès, Léonor Fini was frequently commissioned by Carmel Snow, Harper's Bazaar's editor-in-chief from 1933 to 1957, to illustrate Mme. Schiaparelli's creations for the magazine. [Source: Murphy, R., Harper's Bazaar: Schiaparelli in Bazaar, April 2012:232])

More than a brilliant innovator, M. Gaultier shares one other gift with Mme. Schiaparelli: a sense of playful fun without loss of style or refinement—a belief in not taking fashion too seriously, that great design need not be dour to be everlasting. Like his predecessor, M. Gaultier has, over the years, transformed himself from the enfant terrible of fashion—for his propensity to not only to defy and subvert conventional, long-established design—as well as beauty—ideals and overturn them upon themselves but also for completely disregarding accepted gender roles and norms—to a highly respected maître in the gilded world of Parisian couture; one who, by dint of his vivacious personality and indifference to social conventions, has carved his own (nonconformist) path—much as Elsa Schiaparelli did in her own time.


Women dress alike all over the world: they dress to be annoying to other women.” ~ Elsa Schiaparelli

Madame Schiaparelli in 1947
Image courtesy of: El Pais


Suggested readings:

Elsa Schiaparelli: Empress of Paris Fashion (1996), by Palmer White: Aurum Press
Elsa Schiaparelli (1997), by François Baudot: Thames & Hudson
Paris Fashion: A Cultural History (1998), by Valerie Steele: Berg
Shocking!: The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli (2003), by Dilys E. Blum: Yale University Press
Shocking Life: The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli (2007 | originally published in 1954), by Elsa Schiaparelli: Harry N. Abrams
Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations (2012), by Harold Koda, Andrew Bolton & Judith (INT) Thurman: Yale University Press