Elsa Schiaparelli was an Italian fashion designer. Along with Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, she is regarded as one of the most prominent figures in fashion between the two World Wars. 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.
She worked with a number of contemporary artists to develop her imaginative designs, most famously with Salvador Dalí. From these artistic collaborations, Schiaparelli’s most notable designs were born. In addition to well-documented collaborations such as the shoe hat and the Tears dress, Dalí’s influence has been identified in designs such as the lamb-cutlet hat and a 1936 day suit with pockets simulating a chest of drawers.
Her perfumes were noted for their unusual packaging and bottles. Her best-known perfume was “Shocking!”. Schiaparelli’s output also included distinctive costume jewellery in a wide range of novelty designs. One of her most directly Surrealist designs was a 1938 Rhodoid (a newly developed clear plastic) necklace studded with coloured metallic insects, giving the illusion that the bugs were crawling directly on the wearer’s skin.
The failure of her business meant that Schiaparelli’s name is not as well remembered as that of her great rival Chanel. But in 1934, Time placed Chanel in the second division of fashion, whereas Schiaparelli was one of “a handful of houses now at or near the peak of their power as arbiters of the ultra-modern haute couture….Madder and more original than most of her contemporaries, Mme Schiaparelli is the one to whom the word “genius” is applied most often.
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