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Elsa Schiaparelli was a fashion designer from an Italian aristocratic background. She created the house of Schiaparelli in Paris in 1927, which she managed from the 1930s to the 1950s. Starting with knitwear, Schiaparelli’s designs celebrated Surrealism and eccentric fashions. Wikipedia

1937, the Rise of Schiaparelli

For Chanel, 1937 was the year she was temporarily eclipsed by Schiaparelli, who was now dressing many of Chanel’s most faithful clients. With change in the air, Schiap was regarded as the epitome of modernity, her designs influenced by Surrealist artists like Man Ray, best known for his photography, and the Cubist Marcel Duchamp. As the poet Louis MacNeice was to write:

Give me a new Muse with stockings and suspenders
And a smile like a cat
With false eyelashes and finger-nails of carmine
And dressed by Schiaparelli,
with a pill-box hat.

Many of Chanel’s inner circle had now become part of Schiap’s also, especially those with whom she worked, from Cocteau to Chanel’s ex-lover Dalí. Nineteen thirty-seven was the year of Schiap’s ‘Lobster Dress’, made of white organza with scarlet sash and Dalí-designed lobster, made famous when Mrs Simpson modelled it in American Vogue (it was rumoured that Dalí wanted to put real mayonnaise on the lobster but that Schiap objected).

The surreal fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli | V&A

Schiap’s clothes were brilliantly colourful, giving a slight sense of déja vu to Chanel’s monochrome palette – although she included a gold lamé evening dress in her autumn/winter collection. Schiap ‘glorified the hard elegance of the ugly woman’, wrote Bettina Ballard, American Vogue’s Paris correspondent. Like Chanel, she had a genius for publicity. Although in public both damned each other with faint praise, in private Chanel referred to Schiaparelli as ‘that Italian artist who makes clothes’. (Pg.88)

Understanding Daniel Roseberry’s Schiaparelli – Couture Spring 2022

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Schiaparelli was one of the first designers to develop the wrap dress, taking inspiration from aprons to produce a design that would accommodate and flatter all female body types. Her design, which first appeared in 1930, offered a two-sided model with armholes on each side, brought together in the front of the garment and wrapped and tied at the waistline. Buttons may also have been incorporated into this early version. Initially conceived as beachwear and produced in four colours of tussore silk, the dress was popular with buyers and copied by garment manufacturers as a design for everyday street wear. Some forty years afterwards, this uncomplicated and easy-to-wear design was revisited in the 1970s by the American designer Diane von Fürstenberg.[40][41]

In 1931, Schiaparelli’s divided skirt—a forerunner of shorts—shocked the tennis world when worn by Lili de Alvarez at Wimbledon in 1931.[8]

Other innovations included a swimsuit design which incorporated an interior bra with an alluring low-cut back by using hidden straps that crossed in the back and closed around the waist. This design was patented in 1930 and retailed by Best & Company.[40] Other designs were made with detachable elements and reversible sections. Also in 1930, she is credited with having produced the first evening dress with a matching jacket.[41] During Prohibition in the United States, Schiaparelli’s popularly named “speakeasy dress” provided a hidden pocket for a flask for alcoholic beverage.[42]

What’s My Line? – Elsa Schiaparelli; Faye Emerson [panel] (Sep 21, 1952)

The House of Schiaparelli

The House of Schiaparelli was first opened in the 1930s at 21 Place Vendôme. After World War II, Elsa Schiaparelli did not manage to find success with her collections. The couture house was shut down on 13 December 1954.[72] In 1957, she created a company mainly for her perfume licences, which is the actual company today.[73] In 2007, Italian businessman Diego Della Valle acquired the company, but it wasn’t until Marco Zanini was appointed in September 2013 that details of the brand’s revival became public. The house has been nominated for a return to the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture list of members, and presented its first show since nomination in January 2014.[74] Schiaparelli, using a hyper-exclusive business strategy, is to sell its first collection exclusively at a by-appointment boutique in Paris.[75] The company is now moving towards luxury Ready-to-wear.[76]


The failure of her business meant that Schiaparelli’s name is not as well remembered as that of her great rival Chanel.[citation needed] But in 1934, Time placed Chanel in the second division of fashion, whereas Schiaparelli was one of “a handful of houses now at or near the peak of their power as arbiters of the ultra-modern haute couture….Madder and more original than most of her contemporaries, Mme Schiaparelli is the one to whom the word ‘genius’ is applied most often”.[13] At the same time Time recognised that Chanel had assembled a fortune of some US$15m despite being “not at present the most dominant influence in fashion”, whereas Schiaparelli relied on inspiration rather than craftsmanship and “it was not long before every little dress factory in Manhattan had copied them and from New York’s 3rd Avenue to San Francisco’s Howard Street millions of shop girls who had never heard of Schiaparelli were proudly wearing her models”.[13]

Schiaparelli’s two granddaughters, from her daughter’s marriage to shipping executive Robert L. Berenson, were model Marisa Berenson and photographer Berry Berenson. Both sisters appeared regularly in Vogue in the early 1970s. Berry was married to the actor Anthony Perkins, with whom she had two children, the actor Oz Perkins and the musician Elvis Perkins. In 2014, Marisa collaborated with Hubert de Givenchy to publish the book Elsa Schiaparelli’s Private Album which reproduced photographs from her grandmother’s personal archives.[80]

In 1954, Schiaparelli published her autobiography Shocking Life and then lived out a comfortable retirement between her Paris apartment and house in Tunisia. She died on 13 November 1973 at the age of 83.

WE&P by: EZorrillaM.

“Chanel’s Riviera: Glamour, Decadence, and Survival in Peace and War, 1930-1944” by Anne De Courcy