Elsa Schiaparelli, innovative fashion protagonist during the interwar period, a Surrealist designer that “invented” modern fashion shows.
Schiaparelli’s designs originated in Italy but did not take off until she had moved to Paris. In many of Elsa’s woolen garments one can see how she was inspired by Surrealists such as Salvador Dali and Alberto Giacometti.
Schiaparelli’s collaboration with Salvador Dali was her biggest accomplishment and allowed her to excel in the fashion world.
Elsa Schiaparelli was also the first designer to include graphics into her clothing, utilize brightly colored zippers on evening gowns.
Schiaparelli. incorporated themes inspired by contemporaneous events, erotic fantasy, traditional and avant-garde art, and her own psyche into her designs.
Schiaparelli was not afraid to experiment with textures and fabrics .
She used bold prints with unorthodox imagery and colors, opulent embroideries, outsized and exposed zippers, and distinctive buttons and ornaments ranging from the whimsical to the bizarre—was her medium of creative expression.
Starting with knitwear, Schiaparelli’s designs were heavily influenced by Surrealists like her collaborators Salvador Dalí and Alberto Giacometti. Her clients included the heiress Daisy Fellowes and actress Mae West.
Schiaparelli did not adapt to the changes in fashion following World War II and her business closed in 1954.
After several years of designing and selling her pieces freelance, she opened a small atelier in 1927 in the rue de l’Université and captured the worlds of European and American fashion with her first collections featuring hand-knit sweaters.
Her initial designs were geometric, but in November of that year she introduced a black and white trompe l’oeil design patterned with a square collar and red bowknot that caught the fancy of an American buyer and launched her career.
Over the next several years, her offerings evolved from sweaters and sporting wear to a full line of clothing. By 1932, she already had 400 employees producing 7,000 to 8,000 garments per year from expanded quarters at 4 rue de la Paix. These early designs, while more conservative than her later work, incorporated her quirky and imaginative aesthetic.
The clothes and accessories that she created from the mid-1930s to 1940, when she was collaborating with the Surrealist artists Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dalí,
and Leonor Fini and enjoying continued inspiration from her long-term association with photographer Man Ray, represent the apotheosis of her creativity.Further emphasizing the Surrealistic theatricality of the clothes from this period,
Schiaparelli organized some of them into thematic collections—”Stop Look and Listen” in 1935, “Music” and “Paris 1937” in 1937, “Zodiac,” “Pagan,” and “Circus” in 1938, and “Commedia dell’ Arte” in 1939.
As a result of having lived for an extended period in America, Schiaparelli was particularly attuned to the American fashion industry and the upper-middle-class American woman’s stylistic and utilitarian preferences.
This connection served her well financially. While only a few of her clients would wear her most outrageous designs, she could clothe slightly less adventuresome sorts through her many commercial arrangements with American department stores and specialty shops.
Before World War II, as the New York Sun reported in 1940, output from her workshops at 21 Place Vendôme, where she had relocated in 1935, had grown to 10,000 garments per year.