Elsa Schiaparelli

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Elsa Schiaparelli : biography

10 September 1890 – 13 November 1973

A darker tone was set when France declared war on Germany in 1939. Schiaparelli’s Spring 1940 collection featured "trench" brown and camouflage print taffetas. Soon after the fall of Paris on 14 June 1940, Schiaparelli sailed to New York for a lecture tour; apart from a few months in Paris in early 1941, she remained in New York City until the end of the war. On her return she found that fashions had changed, with Christian Dior’s "New Look" marking a rejection of pre-war fashion. The house of Schiaparelli struggled in the austerity of the post-war period, and Elsa finally closed it down in December 1954, the same year that her great rival Chanel returned to the business. Aged 64, she wrote her autobiography and then lived out a comfortable retirement between her apartment in Paris and house in Tunisia. She died on 13 November 1973.

Artist collaborations

Modern art, particularly Dada and Surrealism, provided a significant source of inspiration for Schiaparelli. She worked with a number of contemporary artists to develop her imaginative designs, most famously with Salvador Dalí. From these artistic collaborations, Schiaparelli’s most notable designs were born. In addition to well-documented collaborations such as the shoe hat and the Tears dress, Dalí’s influence has been identified in designs such as the lamb-cutlet hat and a 1936 day suit with pockets simulating a chest of drawers. Schiaparelli also had a good relationship with other artists including Leonor Fini, Jean Cocteau, Meret Oppenheim, and Alberto Giacometti. Chanel referred to her as ‘that Italian artist who makes clothes’.

Cocteau

In 1937, Schiaparelli collaborated with the artist Jean Cocteau to design a jacket and an evening coat for that year’s Autumn collection. in the collection database of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Accessed 5/2/2010 The jacket was embroidered with a female figure with one hand caressing the waist of the wearer, and long blonde hair cascading down one sleeve. in the collection database of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Accessed 5/2/2010 The coat featured two profiles facing each other, creating the optical illusion of a vase of roses. The embroidering of both garments was executed by the couture embroiderers Lesage.

Dalí

The designs Schiaparelli produced in collaboration with Dalí are among her best known. While she did not formally name her designs, the four main garments from this partnership are popularly known as follows:

Lobster Dress

The 1937 Lobster Dress was a simple white silk evening dress with a crimson waistband featuring a large lobster painted (by Dalí) onto the skirt. From 1934, Dalí had started incorporating lobsters into his work, including New York Dream-Man Finds Lobster in Place of Phone shown in the magazine American Weekly in 1935, and the mixed-media Lobster Telephone (1936). His design for Schiaparelli was interpreted into a fabric print by the leading silk designer Sache. It was famously worn by Wallis Simpson in a series of photographs by Cecil Beaton taken at the Château de Candé shortly before her marriage to Edward VIII. in the collections database of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Accessed 5/2/2010

Tears Dress

The Tears Dress, a slender pale blue evening gown printed with a Dalí design of trompe l’oeil rips and tears, worn with a thigh-length veil with "real" tears carefully cut out and lined in pink and magenta, was part of the February 1938 Circus Collection. The print was intended to give the illusion of torn animal flesh, the tears printed to represent fur on the reverse of the fabric and suggest that the dress was made of animal pelts turned inside out. Figures in ripped, skin-tight clothing suggesting flayed flesh appeared in three of Dalí’s 1936 paintings, one of which, Necrophiliac Springtime, was owned by Schiaparelli; the other two are The Dream Places A Hand on a Man’s Shoulder and Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in Their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra. in the collections database of the Victoria and Albert Museum Accessed 5/2/2010 in the collections database of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Accessed 5/2/2010