Elsa Schiaparelli : biography
Elsa Schiaparelli (1890–1973) was an Italian fashion designer. Along with Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, she is regarded as one of the most prominent figures in fashion between the two World Wars. Starting with knitwear, Schiaparelli’s designs were heavily influenced by Surrealists like her collaborators Salvador Dalí and Alberto Giacometti. Her clients included the heiress Daisy Fellowes and actress Mae West.
Schiaparelli did not adapt to the changes in fashion following World War II and her business closed in 1954.
Schiaparelli was born at the Palazzo Corsini in Rome. Her mother, Maria-Luisa,http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n04/rosemary-hill/hard-edged-chic was a Neapolitan aristocrat, and her father, Celestino Schiaparelli, was a renowned scholar and curator of medieval manuscripts. Her father was Dean of the University of Rome and an authority on Sanskrit. She was a niece of astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, who discovered the so-called canali of Mars, and she spent hours with him studying the heavens. She studied philosophy at the University of Rome, during which she published a book of sensual poems that shocked her conservative family. Schiaparelli was sent to a convent until she went on hunger strike and at the age of 22 accepted a job in London as a nanny. Elsa led a refined life with a certain amount of luxury provided by her parents’ wealth and high social status. She believed, however, that this luxury was stifling to her art and creativity and so she removed herself from the “lap of luxury” as quickly as possible. Schiaparelli moved first to New York City and then to Paris, combining her love of art and design to become a couturier.
En route to London, Schiaparelli was invited to a ball in Paris. Having no ballgown, she bought some dark blue fabric, wrapped it around herself and pinned it in place. In London most of her time was spent visiting museums and attending lectures. Schiaparelli went on to marry one of her lecturers, Count William de Wendt de Kerlor, a Franco-Swiss theosophist. In 1921 they moved to New York, where Schiaparelli immediately responded to the modernity of the city. Her husband distanced himself from the city and had abandoned his family by the time their child, Maria Luisa (nicknamed ‘Gogo’) was born.
Schiaparelli was later introduced to Gaby Picabia, ex-wife of French Dadaist artist Francis Picabia and owner of a boutique selling French fashions in New York. Through her work there, Schiaparelli met artists like Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray. When Gaby and Man Ray left for Paris, Schiaparelli joined them.
Schiaparelli’s perfumes were noted for their unusual packaging and bottles. Her best-known perfume was "Shocking!" (1936), contained in a bottle sculpted by Leonor Fini in the shape of a woman’s torso inspired by Mae West’s tailor’s dummy and Dalí paintings of flower-sellers. The packaging, also designed by Fini, was in shocking pink, one of Schiaparelli’s signature colours which was said to have been inspired by Daisy Fellowe’s ‘Tête de Belier’ (Ram’s Head) pink diamond.
Other perfumes included:
- Salut (1934)
- Souci (1934)
- Schiap (1934)
- Sleeping (1938)
- Snuff (for men; 1939)
- Roi Soleil (1946)
- Zut! (1948)
Elsa Schiaparelli’s daughter, Countess Maria Luisa Yvonne Radha de Wendt de Kerlor, better known as Gogo Schiaparelli, married shipping executive Robert L. Berenson. Their children were model Marisa Berenson and photographer Berry Berenson. Both sisters appeared regularly in Vogue in the early 1970s. Berry was married to Anthony Perkins, who died of AIDS on September 12, 1992. Almost 9 years later, on September 11, 2001, Berry died on American Airlines Flight 11 when it crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Elsa Schiaparelli’s great grand children include actor Oz Perkins and musician Elvis Perkins.