The Later 1930s

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Schiaparelli moved her boutique to the Place Vendome in 1935, commissioning Jean-Michel Franck to decorate

Lobster Dress Schiaparelli
Elsa Schiaparelli. One of the top designers of the 1920s through the 1940s, Elsa Schiaparelli is known for both her playful and elaborate fashions and her success in the marketplace. AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced by permission.

her new premises. Their ever-changing décor incorporated, at various times, a stuffed bear that the artist Salvador Dalí had dyed shocking pink and fitted with drawers in its stomach, a life-size dummy of Mae West, and a gilded bamboo birdcage for the perfume boutique. In 1935 Schiaparelli inaugurated themed collections, starting with Stop, Look and Listen for summer 1935. "Schiaparelli collection enough to cause crisis in vocabulary," read a contemporary review of Stop, Look and Listen (Schiaparelli, p. 87). Following the Music Collection of 1937, Schiaparelli surpassed herself in 1938 and showed four collections in a single year: the Circus Collection for summer 1938, the Pagan Collection for autumn 1938, the Zodiac or Lucky Stars Collection for winter 1938-1939, and the Commedia dell'Arte Collection or A Modern Comedy for spring 1939. Her presentations were more like shows or plays than the conventional mannequin parade. Incorporating stunts, tricks, jokes, music, and light effects, they were dramatic and lively, and entry to them was as much sought after as tickets to a new play.

In 1937 Schiaparelli launched the color of vivid pink that she named "shocking," alongside her perfume Shocking!, packaged in a bottle designed by the artist Leonor Fini and based on the shape of Mae West's torso. The same year saw the designer's Shoe Hat ensemble, a black suit with pockets embroidered with lips and an inverted high-heeled shoe for a hat. The hat came in two versions, one that was all black, and the other, black with a shocking pink heel. The 1938 Circus collection featured a black evening dress with a padded skeleton stitched on it, boleros heavily embroidered with circus themes, and an inkwell-shaped hat whose feather resembled a quill pen. The 1938 Zodiac collection featured more highly encrusted embroidery such as the mirror suit, in which inverted baroque mirrors were embroidered on the front panels of the jacket and incorporated pieces of real mirrored glass. Schiaparelli encouraged the embroidery firm Maison Lesage to revive techniques from both medieval ecclesiastical vestments and eighteenth-century military uniforms. The result was a series of highly wrought evening jackets and accessories in which the decoration of the garment became a carapace or form of female armor.

While Schiaparelli was clearly established commercially as a fashion designer, she also retained many links, both personal and professional, with surrealist artists. In New York during World War I she knew Francis Picabia and his then wife Gabrielle, who introduced her to the artistic photographer Man Ray and the painter/sculptor Marcel Duchamp. Schiaparelli was photographed by Man Ray in the early 1920s and then again in 1930. Man Ray regularly took photographs for fashion magazines, including Vogue and Harper's Bazaar; some of these photographs also appeared in the surrealist magazine Minotaure, which was published between 1933 and 1939. An essay of 1933 by the surrealist writer Tristan Tzara was illustrated by Man Ray's photographs of Schiaparelli's hats. She in turn employed many surrealist artists to design accessories for her. The writer Elsa Triolet made jewelry for Schiapiarelli and other couturiers, with her husband Louis Aragon acting as the salesman. Alberto Giacometti made brooches for Schiaparelli, while Meret Oppenheim produced fur-lined metal bracelets. Christian Berard illustrated Schia-parelli's designs and many of the program covers for her openings or fashion shows. In 1937 the designer used drawings done for her by the artist Jean Cocteau as trompe l'oeil embroidery on two evening garments, a blue silk coat and a grey linen jacket.

Schiaparelli's collaboration with Salvador Dali, however, which began in 1936, produced a series of the most striking designs: chest of drawer suits (with horizontal pockets that looked like drawers and buttons that resembled drawer handles) from 1936, an evening dress with lobster print and a shoe hat and suit from 1937, and an evening dress with a tear design from 1938.

Apart from these accredited collaborations Schiapar-elli produced many surrealist designs of her own from the start of her career, some clearly in homage to her contemporaries, others apparently her own inspiration: black suede gloves appliquéd with red snakeskin fingernails inspired by Man Ray; a telephone-shaped handbag inspired by Dalí and a brain-shaped hat made of corrugated pink velvet; buttons in the shape of peanuts, padlocks, and paper clips; multicolored wigs coordinated with gowns; and the first fabric designed to mimic newsprint, printed with Schiaparelli's own reviews in several languages. Meanwhile, Schiaparelli maintained her contacts with fashion-related industries in both the United States and Britain, collaborating with textile and accessory designers on specific ranges as well as selling model gowns through exclusive importers. She also worked in both theater and the cinema as a costume designer, most notably dressing Mae West for the film Every Day's a Holiday (1937).

Throughout the 1930s Schiaparelli continued to travel, many times to the United States, and once in 1935 to a trade fair in the Soviet Union. Although based in Paris, she had opened a branch of her salon in London in 1933. Schiaparelli's international clientele included Lady Mendl, Wallis Simpson, and various titled Englishwomen; she frequently designed costumes for such elaborate costume balls of the decade as the honorable Mrs. Reginald Fellowes's Oriental Ball in 1935 and Lady Mendl's Circus Ball of 1938. The chic and distinctive Daisy Fellowes was Schiaparelli's unofficial mannequin; the designer dressed her for free and she in turn attracted international publicity in newspapers and magazines as one of the few women who wore Schiaparelli's more outré designs. If Daisy Fellowes personified the Schiaparelli look, the American Bettina Bergery, née Jones, personified the designer's spirit. Equally elegant and rakish in her own person, Bergery was the editor of French Vogue between 1935 and 1940 as well as Schiaparelli's assistant, responsible in the late 1930s for the witty and iconoclastic window displays in Schiaparelli's salon on the Place Vendôme.

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