Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the most important designers in the fashion world. A lover of surrealism, a close friend of Salvador Dalí and a rival of Coco Chanel, the designer is the author of several iconic pieces and is also considered the creator of what we currently know as “branding” On the anniversary of her death, November 13, 1973, we want to remember her surreal influence on fashion.
Schiaparelli’s contact with avant-garde art began through her friend Gabrielle, wife of the French creator Francis Picabia. Schiaparelli was attracted to the imaginative freedom of surrealist artists, surrealism’s fixation on the corporeal, and representations of the body that created natural tangents with the world of fashion. This approach, in addition to placing her in a privileged position of knowledge of artistic novelties, allowed her to enter into relationship with important Dadaist and surrealist postulates such as Marcel Duchamp, Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, Salvador Dalí, Alberto Giacometti, Elsa Triolet, Meret Oppenheim , Jean Cocteau, Hoeningen-Huene, Horst, Cecil Beaton, Christian Berard and Van Dongen, with whom he carried out collaborative projects ranging from photography to the design of accessories, perfume bottles, fabrics and clothing. In her hands, fashion became one more face of the multifaceted prism of surrealist art, redefining the concept of femininity.
To Schiaparelli we owe, among other things, the invention of modern fashion shows conceived as a spectacle, the creation of the first female jumpsuits in the 30s and the skorts, the use of rayon and its mixture with noble fabrics, the first elastic fabric of rayon and latex, the creation of transparent and waterproof velvets, and the textile use of cellophane sheets. And, likewise, he left us extravagant and original creations such as the shoe hat (Soulier), the lobster dress designed by Dalí, the aspirin necklace, the suede gloves with red snake skin simulating nails, the hand-shaped brooches designed by Jean Schlumberger, the “Shocking” perfume, one of the House Schiaparelli perfumes whose bottle in the shape of a bust designed by the surrealist artist Leonor Fini or the unusual suede and monkey skin ankle boots that inspired the artist René Magritte for his painting “Love Disarmed”.
In addition, she is considered by many as the creator of branding because, among other things, she was the first designer to launch a line of glasses and bags and to include her wonderful S and locks in her creations to make them even more unmistakable.
Detaching herself from the oppressive and sexist society in which she lived, she became the favorite of characters of the stature of the Duchess of Windsor (whose trousseau the Schiaparelli label would wear until the last of her days), Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Lauren Bacall, Gene Tierney or Gala (Dali’s muse). And by Marchesa Casati, Nusch Eluard (who wore Schiaparelli for her portrait of Pablo Picasso), Arletty, Vivien Leigh, Ginger Rogers, Juliette Gréco or Mae West. All of them collected their then controversial designs. Different. Unforgettable.
Schiaparelli’s designs were a deliberate transgression of the beauty of the surreal nature of fashion. Schiaparelli considered fashion as an art and, therefore, impossible to disassociate from the evolution of contemporary plastic arts and especially painting. Surrealism served as a source of basic inspiration. She opted for color, ornament, fantasy and fire and developed them according to the spirit of the time. She designed garments that drew attention to the value of the fashion object as a fetish, creating disturbing accessories. A provocative and irreverent elegance that makes her work and her legacy last forever.