Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Fashion Inspiration: Elsa Schiaparelli

This semester at university I took a course devoted to the Surrealists. It was  a very fascinating course for many reasons, but one of favourite aspects of the course was how Surrealist practices of displacing meanings and using irony in their works were taken up by the fashion world. Elsa Schiaparelli (pronounced Shaparelli) was one of these designers, and she definitely did it best! Her clothing is beautiful and very clever in terms of employing Surrealist themes in her creations.

Schiaparelli in the first photo is wearing a "Shoe Hat" and in the second photo she is in on the right. Look at that style! Schiaparelli was born to an aristocratic Italian family in the late 19th century, and fell into the world of fashion completely by chance. She lived in Paris most of her life, but spent a good number of years living in New York City with her husband, where she came across Surrealist artists like photographer Man Ray and Salvador Dali. She would go on to collaborate with both these artists on projects. Her most famous collaborations were created with Dali. 

Shoe hat. Surrealists loved to displace meaning and function. The function of the shoe was subverted with the creation of this piece, and while it may not seem all that groundbreaking now, it was shocking at the time. Schiaparelli was a real boat-rocker! This was very innovative for the 1930s fashion world. Art and fashion had not fully crossed over before Dali and Schiaparelli working together.

This dress she created as a homage to Dali's lobster phone.

I love this. Looks like something Lady Gaga would wear! 

These sunglasses were outlandish at the time

Schiaparelli was also the subject of Surrealist works from time to time. Man Ray is a famous Surrealist photographer who often took Schiaparelli's lookbook photos, however she was the subject of this project. Love!

Schiaparelli also made some very classic haute couture pieces that are absolutely stunning. If ever I need to attend a posh event in the future and I could afford to make my own couture dress, it would look like these. 
Isn't this STUNNING? I reminds me of a lobster. 

I love these 1930s dresses. Not as severe and shapeless as the 1920s but not as puffy as swing dresses from the 1940s and '50s. 

It's my goal in life to own a Schiaparelli item. Most of her haute couture items are now in museums, but you can buy some of her mass market stuff on Ebay and Etsy. I admire Schiaparelli's creative vision, her sense of humour, and her gusto.

Has anyone inspired you lately?

Charmaine xxx


  1. She is amazing person! Thanks for sharing :)

  2. actually yes… I am always amazed to think that George Brummel's dictum on men's attire are still true of formal wear today. I am also much inspired by Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Edith Head, and Hanae Morio (although it's really REALLY hard to find examples of her clothing, except for the kimono she designed for the Imperial wedding in 1993 {]).

    Thanks for putting up the photos of ES's work… I'll be using them for mood boards for 19th century design for my History of Fashion Class. If you like, I'll be happy to post a link for you to see it…


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