Schiaparelli -- who was born in Rome in 1890 and later made her home in Paris, London and the U.S. -- came from a family of intellectuals. Her father was a scholar of Arabic and Islamic studies, influences that regularly surfaced in her work. She saluted an astronomer uncle in her Lucky Stars collection (winter 1938-39).
A book of her poetry was published in 1911. After a marriage to a persuasive but inconstant theosophist, Schiaparelli found her way to couture through the friendship of Gabrielle Picabia, wife of the painter Francis Picabia (she and Schiaparelli both eventually divorced), and encouragement of mentor Paul Poiret. In 1927, her sweaters knit with trompe l'oeil bows attracted international attention, effectively launching her career. Later innovations included the use of zippers as decorative elements, the first tennis costume with a divided skirt, a backless "speakeasy" evening gown with a pleated, bustle-like compartment for stashing a flask, a fabric print composed of newspaper clippings (inspired by Picasso's and Braque's collages) and a knitted amorphous "mad cap." Nearly forgotten today, the latter was so universally copied that Schiaparelli discarded the design in disgust.
Schiaparelli was a member of the artistic community of Paris and Parisian New York. In New York during the war, she organized a surrealist exhibition with Duchamp and André Breton. She owned artworks by Cocteau, Dalí, Modigliani, Picasso, Yves Tanguy and Pavel Tchelitchew. Dalí collaborated with her many times, including on the production of a shoe-shaped hat. An interaction with Meret Oppenheim resulted in Oppenheim's signature work, Déjeuner en fourrure. Giacometti designed ashtrays and other items for her salon on the Place Vendôme.
She created clothing for many stage productions and films, including costumes for Mae West in Every Day's a Holiday and Zsa Zsa Gabor in Moulin Rouge. Her regular clients included the Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn.
While looking at pictures of her work, I found that Schiaparelli had 12 Commandements for women to live by. Take note!
- Since most women do not know themselves they should try to do so
- A woman who buys an expensive dress and changes it, often with disastrous result, is extravagant and foolish.
- Most women (and men) are color-blind. They should ask for suggestions.
- Remember-twenty percent of women have inferiority complexes. Seventy percent have illusions.
- Ninety percent are afraid of being conspicuous, and of what people will say. So they buy a gray suit. They should dare to be different.
- Women should listen and ask for competent criticism and advice.
- They should choose their clothes alone or in the company of a man.
- They should never shop with another woman, who sometimes consciously or unconsciously, is apt to be jealous
- She should buy little and only of the best or cheapest.
- Never fit a dress to the body, but train the body to fit the dress.
- A woman should buy mostly in one place where she is known and respected, and not rush around trying every new fad.
- And she should pay her bills.
Elsa Schiaparelli Monkey Fur Shoes, 1938. Black suede and monkey fur
Elsa Schiaparelli Bootees, winter 1939-40. Pink, green, and white silk satin and leather with mother-of-pearl buttons.
Elsa Schiaparelli. Shoe hat, (collaboration with Salvador Dalí), winter 1937-38. Black wool felt. The Metropolitan
What I do is kick them in the pants with a diamond buckled shoe!