Although Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the most prominent fashion icons between the World wars she is not a household name today. But she brought quite some inspiration into the fashion arena.
Born the daughter of a wealthy family in Rome 1890 she developed an avid interest in art and design. Believing that her family’s wealth would harm her art she moved to New York where she made friends with artists like Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp.
In 1922, when Man and Gaby Ray decided to go to Paris she joined them.
Apparently this was when she started combing her love for art and style and became a couturier. As far as I can see she was a self-educator.
For example she once wanted to go to a fashion show as a visitor. In order to look good she knitted a black pullover with white wristbands and a white bow at the neck. This pullover caught the attention of the writer Anita Loos (she wrote the original script of “Gentlemen prefer Blondes” in 1928 which was reused several times).
Collaboration with Artists
Given the moral support of Paul Poiret she opened her first atelier in 1926 that got good reviews and closed in spite of it. Already in 1927 she launched a collection of knitwear. The pullovers were featured with surrealistic images.
As a lover of modern art she worked together with Salvador Dali. From this partnership some really original results emerged. One example is the lobster dress that was decorated with a lobster painted by Dali.
With Jean Cocteau she designed an evening coat that shows an optical illusion. You know these images with the two faces looking at each other and when you look for the second time the only thing you see is a vase. The shoulders and parts of the back are decorated with embroidery of pink roses.
In 1931 Elsa invented the split skirt which was a shock first. But it turned out to be very handy for playing tennis or riding a bike. The black pullover we already spoke about made furore. A copy of it was displayed in the window of a shop and procurement manager from a department store saw it. After years of hard work Elsa’s fame finally came over night.
Happy Ever After
Wars tend to change everything; even taste. After World War 2 fashion became less decorated, simpler and the cuts were rather strict. Elsa did not adapt to this and therefore closed her atelier in 1954.
Still, she was now rich on her own and lived happily ever after. She became 83 years old.
The picture of Elsa Schapiarelli's a split skirt belongs to Getty Images and it has been copied out of "Fashion. Mode von 1900 bis heute." by Harriet Worsley.