Schiaparelli and Surrealism

"In the 1930s Elsa Shiaparelli, whose designs engaged seriously with Surrealism, used fashion to question the place of women in the society of the time and, with her use of mirrors, masquerade and tromp l’oeil, the relationship of garment to body and feminine identity to performance.” - Adorned in Dreams

I only recently learned of Elsa Shiaparelli after reading on the Business of Fashion that Christian Lacroix will be the head designer for the brands first collection since the 1950s. After much research you can pretty much assume that I am completely obsessed with this woman and everything she stood for. From the 1930s to the 50s she worked closely with Salvador Dali and infused many Surrealist elements into her designs as you can see in her shoe hat, lips pockets and spinal/rib-cage infused dresses. As I googled and googled and then googled some more I was blown away by the fact that many of her designs are things that I thought were only recently created but it turns out they were only recently stolen.

“Madder and more original than most of her contemporaries, Mme Schiaparelli is the one to whom the word ‘genius’ is applied most often,” Time magazine wrote of its cover subject in 1934. Coco Chanel once dismissed her rival as “that Italian artist who makes clothes.” (To Schiaparelli, Chanel was simply “that milliner.”) Schiaparelli—“Schiap” to friends—stood out among her peers as a true nonconformist, using clothing as a medium to express her unique ideas. In the thirties, her peak creative period, her salon overflowed with the wild, the whimsical, and even the ridiculous." -Voguepedia 

To say that I want to be Schiaparelli's best friend is an understatement. I would want to be her muse, her daughter, her sister, her everything. I would want to live my life in her designs and spend all my days listening to her musings. One devotee of hers, Daisy Fellowes, sported Schiaparelli’s jaunty shoe hat, designed with the surrealist painter Salvador Dalí. Of Millicent Rogers, who wore the clear plastic collar crawling with colored metal bugs, the designer said, “She was never afraid of anything. She could wear anything and she wore everything new."

Schiaparelli pioneered the concept of themed collections—designing around the idea of the Zodiac, or Music—as well as the fashion show as performance. For 1938’s Circus, she hired acrobats to pump up the cognoscenti. For the opening of her new boutique, the Schiap Shop, in 1935, she had fabric printed with her own press clippings. The blazer on the right is a design based off constellations as she had spent much of her time with her uncle who was a famous astronomer. On the left is the "Cocteau" evening jacket from the fall of 1937 that was designed in collaboration with Jean Cocteau with a surreal tromp l'oiel effect made through beads.

Below is an evening dress from the fall of 1939 inspired by music. The gloves and dress are embroidered with metallic thread corresponding to music-score notes and the belt contains a working music box in the buckle. The cutout scrollwork shapes on the buckle relate to those on a violin, inspired by Man Ray's 1924 photograph Le Violin d'Ingres. This was Schiaparelli's interpretation of the Surrealist notion of the woman's body as a musical instrument, the wholly integrated creation captures the visual, audible and transcendent essence of music in the person wearing the dress.

“Elsa Schiaparelli was a headline attraction in the international glitter-glamour freak show of the late twenties and pre-war thirties,” Leo Lerman wrote in 1954, on the publication of Schiaparelli’s autobiographyShocking Life. (The same year, she ceased designing.)
But she was more than just an attention-grabber, and her innovations are many—from the wrap dress to the dinner suit. Marc Jacobs is just one of the many designers to have drawn inspiration from her designs: His love of trompe l’oeil can be traced to the faux-bow sweater that kick-started Schiaparelli’s career and brought her quirky style to the masses. 

A bug necklace and beetle buttons Schiaparelli designed in collaboration with Dali
“Dare to be different,” is the advice she offered to women and is certainly the advice I offer to you all. Be on the look out for Lacroix's interpretation of this incredible creature's work, he certainly has a lot to live up to. 
Photograph by Irving Penn