“In difficult times, fashion is always outrageous.”
Regarded as one of the most influential figureheads in fashion between the two World Wars, Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli was a true nonconformist. Strong shoulders, pleats inspired by Fortuny and trompe l’oeil – literally translated as fools of the eye – all became trademarks for the Schiaparelli house. Her 1927 Hand Knit Sweater with Bowknot, featuring the trompe l’oeil technique, secured her fame. Schiap cottoned on to the fact that the sweater was a key item for the modern 1920s woman, who would rather play tennis than sit in a parlour. Practical yet chic, she understood that clothes are made to be worn but do not have to be lacklustre.
She was dismissed by her biggest rival Coco Chanel, who referred to her as “that Italian artist who makes clothes.” But Chanel wasn’t wrong in her unintentional backhanded compliment, as Schiaparelli was an artist. Collaborating with surrealist Salvador Dali on the Shoe Hat and Lobster Dress, the duo created exquisite, playful pieces of clothing. Dali had been using lobsters in his artwork for many years; the Lobster Telephone from 1936 being arguably the most famous piece. In the Spring of 1937, Schiaparelli asked Dali to design a lobster as a decoration for a white organdy evening gown. The oversized lobster feels so out of place on such a feminine gown but the juxtaposition between gown and sea creature was not accidental. The dress was made famous when it appeared in Vogue magazine modeled by Wallis Simpson, The Duchess of York.
Schiaparelli’s 1937 Shocking perfume, contained in a bottle shaped like Mae West’s silhouette, was stolen by Jean Paul Gaultier and used for all of his fragrances. And the Nars lipstick in the colour Schiap? A tribute to the designer, who’s signature colour was shocking pink.
From inspiring Martin Margiela, Dolce and Gabbana and Rodarte to DVF, Lanvin and Moschino, Schaiaparelli’s influence lives on. Now that the house has been revived after ceasing to exist for 50 years, expect to see Schiaparelli references aplenty.