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Schiaparelli, Elsa

fashion art schiaparelli’s buttons

B. September 10, 1890

D. November 14, 1973

Birthplace: Rome, Italy

Awards: Neiman Marcus Award, 1940 Hommage à Elsa Schiaparelli , Pavillion des Arts, Paris, 1984
Fashion and Surrealism , Fashion Institute of Technology, and Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1987–1988

Schiapperelli experimented with art and wit to create outrageously fun clothes which captured the fascination with fantasy of the 1930s. This adventurous designer revised the idea of chic for the modern woman. To her, designing was not a job, it was an art.

Interestingly, this rebel of the fashion world had a conservative, Italian upbringing. After she married, she moved to New York in 1919. Soon after her daughter was born, her husband abandoned her, and she moved to Paris in 1923.

Schiaparelli’s first designs were gowns she created for herself and her friends in 1915. She showed her first collection in 1925 and opened the House of Schiaparelli in 1928. Her early designs focused on sportswear. One of her first successes was the trompe l’oeil sweater which was decorated with a bow that was knitted along the neckline. The house was an instant success, and it offered clothes for golf, skiing, swimming, and tennis.

In 1930 she added day wear and evening wear to her already popular sportswear. This was the beginning of her heyday. Her slender, sinuous dresses and suits epitomized the silhouette of the decade. She opened a branch in London in 1933 and a Paris boutique in 1935.

Schiaparelli closed the house during World War II and reopened it in 1945. Like many other French designers after the war, she found that her formula for success no longer worked. Her whimsical designs did not appeal to war-weary European women, and she stopped creating couture garments in 1954. She continued to license items, including costume jewelry, stockings, sunglasses, swimsuits, men’s ties, and wigs.

Although Schiaparelli’s period of popularity was short, her influence on fashion was great. She was the first couturier to feature zippers as a style element. She first used brightly colored zippers on sportswear in 1930. Then she used them again in 1935 on evening dresses. While other designers were using zippers simply as a fastener, Schiaparelli was using them to create visual interest in garments.

The use of playful buttons and unusual materials was another of Schiaparelli’s trademarks. She used buttons in the shape of astrological symbols, bullets, bumblebees, clowns, drums, and peanuts. Rhodophane, cellophane, anthracite (a type of rayon), and treebark (a crinkled matte crepe) were among her fabric choices. In 1938 one of her collections featured a circus theme complete with acrobat-shaped buttons and carousel horses decorating a silk brocade jacket.

Many people considered Schiaparelli’s designs to be shocking, which was often her intent. In 1936 she introduced her trademark color which she called “shocking pink.” It was a bright pink color, and its popularity led to the unveiling of Shocking perfume in 1937. This was not her first fragrance; she had presented Salut, Soucis, and Schiap in 1934. Her other fragrances included Sleeping (1938), Snuff for Men (1939), Le Roi Soleil (1946), Zut (1948), Succès Fou (1953), Si (1957), and S (1962).

Inspired by the leading artists of her day, she played with the ideas of fashion and good taste. As the Dada art movement mocked good art, Schiaparelli mocked fashion by creating hats in the shape of lamb cutlets, brains, and shoes. She commissioned such artists as Christian Bérard, Jean Cocteau, and Salvador Dalí to design embellishments ranging from a beaded depiction of a woman’s head to a drawer-pull style pocket. Renowned jewelry designer Jean Schlumberger created some of her costume jewelry and buttons.

Schiaparelli’s adventure and wit created some of the most memorable clothes during a period of depression in the United States and Europe. She helped redefine the notion of fashion and good taste. Finally, she connected the contemporary art movements to fashion design.

Schiff, Dorothy - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: Dorothy Schiff, Social and Economic Impact [next] [back] Scheele, Carl Wilhelm

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