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Elsa Schiaparelli (1890 - 1973)

Related: pink - Surrealism - fashion - France


Elsa Schiaparelli (September 10, 1890 – November 13, 1973) was the leading Parisian fashion designer of the 1920s and 30s after Coco Chanel.

She was born in Rome, Italy of Italian and Egyptian heritage. She was a great-niece of Giovanni Schiaparelli, who discovered the canals of Mars.

Schiaparelli opened her first salon, "Pour le Sport," in 1927, and as the name indicates specialized in sportswear. In 1931 her design of a divided tennis skirt for star player Lili de Alvarez shocked the staid tennis world when Alvarez wore what was the forerunner of shorts at the Wimbledon tennis championships in London.

Schiaparelli became famous for her black knit sweaters with a white bowtie pattern. She had a flair for the unusual and even hired Salvador Dalí to design fabric, producing a white dress with a lobster print. Schiaparelli was the first to use shoulder pads, hot pink, calling it shocking pink, in 1947, animal print fabrics, and zippers dyed the same colors as the fabrics. She is also well known for her surrealist designs of the 1930's, especially her hats, including one resembling a giant shoe and one a giant lamb chop, both which were famously worn by the Franco-American Singer sewing machine heiress Daisy Fellowes, who was one of Schiaparelli's best clients and who owned a pink gemstone that inspired the color shocking pink. She collaborated with many surrealist artists, Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau, and Alberto Giacometti, between 1936 and 1939.

She designed a number of perfumes in addition to clothing; the first and most famous of which, named Shocking, was created in 1936. Shocking is famous less for the fragrance itself than for its packaging: besides a box in (as the name suggests) shocking pink, the bottle itself was in the shape of a woman's torso, based on the curvaceous body of one of Schiaparelli's clients, film star Mae West. For West, she designed costumes for the film "Every Day's a Holiday." She also designed Zsa Zsa Gabor's costumes for the film "Moulin Rouge."

In 1935 Schiaparelli moved to a salon overlooking the Place Vendôme in Paris. Her output slowed by World War II and the title of trendsetters going to younger designers such as Christian Dior, her couture house declared bankruptcy in 1954 and she moved to the USA.

She was briefly married to Count William de Wendt de Kerlor, once described as "a persuasive but inconstant Theosophist," and moved with him to Greenwich Village in New York City. They had one daughter, Marisa, known as Gogo, who was born in New York City in 1919. Schiaparelli's grandchildren are the actress Marisa Berenson and the late photographer Berry Berenson (Mrs. Anthony Perkins). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elsa Schiaparelli [Feb 2006]

Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli (2003) - Dilys E. Blum

Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli (2003) - Dilys E. Blum [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

If you're a fashionista who's not a babe, you look for clothes that create attention all by themselves. That was the secret of Elsa Schiaparelli, the Italian designer who gave women unusual textures, eccentric patterns and surprising shapes influenced by the Surrealist artists in her circle. In Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli--a winking reference to her most famous perfume as well as to her designing audacity--Dilys E. Blum celebrates the couturiere whose achievements have long been eclipsed by her rival, Coco Chanel. A frustrated sculptor, Schiaparelli invested many of her garments of the 1930s and '40s with an architectural quality, from aerodynamic, back-swept bustles and overskirts dramatically curved back over themselves to stiff, fan-shaped peplums. She created a hat in the shape of an upside-down shoe, made comfy leopard-skin booties, and incorporated such novelties as monkey fur and Rhodophane, a transparent man-made fabric. Her clothes were worn by Mae West and heiress Millicent Rogers, by Helena Rubenstein and French film star Arletty. At her most eccentric, inspired by the artist Man Ray, Schiaparelli produced suede gloves with red snakeskin fingernails. At her most practical, she designed a daring (in 1931) silk tennis costume with a divided skirt. More than 300 stunning photographs, both vintage and contemporary, and a detailed yet lively text made this book a must for anyone interested in the history of fashion. A coordinated exhibition of the same title is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, through Jan. 4, 2004, before traveling to Paris. --Cathy Curtis, amazon.com

Surrealist fashion designer Schiaparelli (1890-1973) gifted 71 of her own designs to an installation that Marcel Duchamp put together in 1942. In this exhaustive overview of Schiaparelli's design career, Blum presents that Duchamp collection (which now resides at the Philadelphia Museum of Art), along with 88 models and 5,800 original sketches donated by the designer to the Musee de la Mode et du Textile in Paris. Representing pre- and post-war designs, the book mixes new color photos of garments with documentary and fashion photos from Schiaparelli's lifetime. Blum, the Philadelphia Museum's curator of costume and textiles, organizes her work chronologically and thematically. She opens with the Roman-born Schiaparelli's first big success, a 1927 bowknot sweater that became one of her most copied designs, and ends with Schiaparelli's designs from the '50s, which includes a pair of sunglasses with the lenses trimmed with long blue eyelashes. This beautifully designed, large-format book with 306 illustrations would make a wonderful gift for anyone interested in the glamour of early 20th-century fashion. --From Publishers Weekly

See also: fashion - 2000 - 1965

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