Elsa Schiaparelli

Without question, Elsa Schiaparelli is my favourite designer of all time. Her work was utterly unique and instantly recognisable, worn by the world ‘s best dressed women, from the society figure Daisy Fellowes, heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune and Harper Bazaar’s fashion icon, to Hollywood stars such as Marlene Dietrich and Ginger Rogers.

1930's coat by Elsa Schiaparelli
Ginger Rogers wearing an amazing black velvet coat designed by Elsa Schiaparelli in 1937

Above you can see the fabulous Ginger Rogers, actress and dancer, synonymous with the silver screen bringing one of Elsa’s creations to life, and below, socialite Daisy Fellows, looking truly spectacular posing in Schiaparelli.

1933 Schiaparelli dress
Daisy Fellowes wearing Schiaparelli in 1933

Elsa also designed costumes for Hollywood productions, such as the one worn by Mae West in ‘Every Day’s a Holiday’.

Mae West in ‘Everyday’s a Holiday’ in an outfit designed by Elsa Schiaparelli

Yet Elsa was more than a fashion designer, she was an artist, an Avant Garde artiste who broke the rules and flouted conventions in fashion.

Elsa Schiaparelli hat with feather
An Elsa Schiaparelli hat, commissioned by Millicent Rogers.

Whilst researching Elsa’s designs I came across this remarkable hat. It was apparently a commission for Millicent Rogers who, at this time, was  residing in the Austrian Tyrolean  Alps. The hat had been created so that it appears as if  a propagation of birds dive-bombed into the crown of the hat. the hat  itself being based on the design on the traditional Tyrolean headwear.  Both Elsa and Millicent must have shared a wicked sense of satire! This piece of millinery is simply phenomenal, there are no subtleties, this was created to be noticed, to raise emotions.

Elsa Schiaparelli-music gown-1939
A musically themed organza gown from Schiaparelli’s 1939 Autumn collection

The above dress, from Elsa’s 1939, Autumn collection is a play on the surrealist notion of the woman’s body as a musical instrument, perhaps most famously depicted by artist and photographer Man Ray in 1924.


Man Ray’s photographic depiction of a woman’s body as an instrument.

Read more about the music dress and other Schiaparelli designs here, the photographs are amazing!


woman as a piano-salvador dali
woman as a piano in Salvador Dali’s surrealist funhouse, Dream of Venus

 Above is a bizarre and someone creepy image of a woman as a piano, a production of the prominent surrealist artist Salvador Dali, with whom Elsa collaborated on a number of occasions.

Dali and Schiaparelli's skeleton dress
The skeleton dress, a collaboration between Salvador and Elsa in 1938

The skeleton dress above must surely be one of Elsa’s most famous creations, and one born from her work with Dali. The skeleton dress, made from silk crêpe, trapunto quilting and cotton wadding  formed part of her ‘Circus’ collection in 1938.

The circus collection-evening ensemble
An evening ensemble from Schiaparelli’s 1938 Circus collection

This stunning set is another from that Collection, not a collaboration, rather it is her own design. I just love it. Look at the buttons (non -fastening)on the jacket!!!!

The circus collection,-close up of buttons
Close up of jacket from the Circus Collection

 Dali designed the fabric for the ‘lobster dress’ upon Schiaparelli’s request, apparently it was inspired by his lobster telephone, and soon became a magnificent gown. The positioning of the lobster was considered scandalous!

Lobster Telephone 1936 by Salvador Dalí
The Lobster telephone !
The lobster dress-schiaparelli
The lobster dress, 1937

Read more about the lobster dress, and its wearer Wallis Simpson here http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/65327.html

wallis simpson-lobster dress
Wallis Simpson in the lobster dress

Wallis Simpson was certainly one of Britain’s best dressed in her time and is one of my style icons today. Below you can see her wearing another of Schiaparelli’s’s designs, a slimline creation with wonderful shoulders. Did you know that Elsa was the first to utilise shoulder pads in women’s wear? The fashions of the 30s and 40s are synonymous with shoulder pads, without Elsa, my suits would certainly not be the exaggerated shouldered beauties that they are.

Wallis Simpson wearing an elegant Schiaparelli gown

Sadly Elsa Schiaparelli’s  design house closed in 1951 and she passed in 1973 but her legacy lives on and her creations remain to be greatly influential in the fashion world today.

Read more about this fascinating woman and the life she led in this recently published biography http://www.amazon.com/Elsa-Schiaparelli-Biography-Meryle-Secrest/dp/030770159X

or read a brief synopsis here http://www.biography.com/people/elsa-schiaparelli-21075509