Elsa Schiaparelli was born on September 10, 1890. Although she was raised in a wealthy, intellectual Italian family, she established her atelier in Paris after receiving encouragement from Paul Poiret. She was close friends with surrealist Salvador Dali and a fairly bitter rival of Coco Chanel. Schiaparelli was a much bigger deal than Coco in the pre-war years, but her star was eclipsed afterward. Her designs were often fanciful, such as a lamb cutlet hat, the Lobster dress (with the crustacean hand painted by Dali), and the shoe hat. Schiap, as her friends called her, was playful, innovative, and unafraid. I loved a retrospective of her work at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris a few years ago and still drink my coffee from a mug emblazoned with one of her shoe designs. The exhibit, Shocking!, was also at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and you can download great information from their site. Schiaparelli left France during the Occupation and didn’t adapt well to the change in fashion in the post-war years. She went out of business in 1956 and settled down to write her memoirs. She died in Paris on November 13, 1973.
Her main contributions to the fashion world were:
- graphic knitwear
- use of brightly colored zippers on sportswear and evening dresses
- use of elaborate decorative buttons
- wedge shoes (love that!)
- runway fashion show with music and tall models
- hot or shocking pink
Today’s quotation, “Une bonne cuisinière est une sorcière qui dispense le bonheur” (oon bun kwee-seen-e-air et oon sor-see-air key dees-pohns luh bun-ur) is a Schiparelli line that means “A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.” I think a great designer can make the same claim.