Tag Archives: design

Hands off: Surrealist art and fashion

As of late, I’ve been thinking more and more about 1920s and 1930s design, and about the fact that many of my favourite fashion designers were the ones to blur the lines between art and fashion. Wearable art is a term that is often thrown around when writing about these people, and it’s one of my favourite ways of thinking about well-designed clothing and creative styling.

Elsa Schiaparelli in Elsa Schiaparelli, autumn 1931. Photograph by Man Ray

Elsa Schiaparelli in Elsa Schiaparelli, autumn 1931. Photograph by Man Ray

Elsa Schiaparelli is well known for having been influenced by surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau and Man Ray, among others. But I would take it even further than to simply state influenced or inspired by – the more I read about her, the more I find these so-called inspirations would more aptly be described as collaborations. The reason these aren’t credited as collaborations I suspect in part has to do with gender, but it is most likely largely due to how much respect fashion vs. art is accorded. Fashion then (and now) is still seen as a lesser  form of art, as a capitalist industry as opposed to one interested in symbolism, deconstruction or self-expression. While Man Ray and Dalí are both respected as some of the 20th century’s most important artistes, Schiaparelli remains a name known mostly in the realm of frivolity and fashion, associated with high society and the colour pink.

A perfect illustration of Schiaparelli’s artistic talents are some of the gloves she designed in the mid-1930s. In Schiaparelli’s collection for winter 1936–37, she produced suede gloves in both black and white, with red snakeskin fingernails to replicate human hands. The black gloves were worn with Surrealist suits with pockets that looked like miniature bureau drawers, designed in collaboration with Salvador Dalí (if you come across a photo of those suits, let me know! I’m dying to see what they look like).

Made in Paris, France, Europe. Winter 1936-37 Designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, French (born Italy), 1890 - 1973  Black suede, red snakeskin 9 3/8 x 3 3/8 inches (23.8 x 8.6 cm)

Gloves by Schiaparelli, Winter 1936-37 collection

These playful gloves were created around the same time as Picasso painted hands to look like gloves for a Man Ray photo. Rumour has it Schiaparelli was inspired to flip-flop the concept and create a pair of gloves to look like hands.

Man Ray, Hands painted by Picasso, 1935

Man Ray, Hands painted by Picasso, 1935

Man Ray,  »Study of Hands », (negative solarization) 1930

Man Ray, »Study of Hands », (negative solarization) 1930

gloves by elsa schiaparelli

A lambskin belt next to suede gloves with gold metal talons, both made by Schiaparelli around 1936

There’s something about these gold talon ones though that I love even more – isn’t there something about them that screams hard femme? “Look, admire, but I can fuck you up if you cross my boundaries?” Perhaps over seventy years later, I’m queering this a bit too much to my own fancy, though.

This was hardly the only time Schiaparelli incorporated hands into her designs: I’m absolutely enamored by this belt, from two years earlier.

Evening belt Elsa Schiaparelli  (Italian, 1890–1973)  Date:     fall 1934 Culture:     French Medium:     silk, plastic Dimensions:     Other: 29 in. (73.7 cm)

Evening belt by Schiaparelli, Fall 1934 (silk, plastic)

The Met describes it as follows:

An ultimate expression of Schiaparelli’s interest in Surrealism, this belt was shown in the fall 1934 collection along with other pieces featuring the hand motif, such as a jacket, cape and handbag with hand-shaped fasteners. The hand was seen in many Surrealist artworks, such as those by Man Ray, and Schiaparelli used it in remarkable ways to accent her clothing designs. The wearer is literally embraced around the waist by the belt, an image echoed in the well-known jacket from the fall 1937 collection, featuring a woman with her golden sequined hair draped down one arm and her arm and hand wrapped across the body and waist, again embracing the wearer. The design was inspired by a drawing by Jean Cocteau for Schiaparelli.

Glove Hat      Object:      Hat with gloves     Place of origin:      Paris, France (gloves, made)     Date:      1936 (made)

Glove Hat designed by Schiaparelli, 1936

Another artist who also happened to be photographed by Man Ray (Kiki de Montparnasse, Lee Miller, Schiap – which badass creative women of the 20s and 30s weren’t?) played with gloves around the very same time is Meret Oppenheim.

Meret Oppenheim  "Fur Gloves with Wooden Fingers" 1936

Meret Oppenheim “Fur Gloves with Wooden Fingers” 1936

Meret Oppenheim Glove (1985) Silk-screen and handstitching on goat suede

Meret Oppenheim Glove (1985) Silk-screen and handstitching on goat suede

While these were created much later in her career, I find them no less interesting!

And since I am a fan of Man Ray’s portraits, here are some solarized portraits of Oppenheim for good measure.

Meret Oppenheim Man Ray (American, 1890–1976)  1932. Gelatin silver print (solarized)

Meret Oppenheim by Man Ray (American, 1890–1976) 1932. Gelatin silver print (solarized)

Now I’m off to daydream more about

recommended reading:

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currently: designer elsa schiaparelli

i’m often asked who my fashion “inspirations” are, but i’ve always been a bit hesitant for fear of falling into the traps of celebrity worship (as i explain in more detail here). but lately i’ve been seeing elsa schiaparelli’s designs and influences popping up all over the place, so i thought i’d share some of my affection for her work with my readers.

Elsa Schiaparelli, Paris, 1937 Photographer: Horst P. Horst

schiaparelli is one of those designers who has made such an important mark on our cultural aesthetics that we often don’t even notice it. she also happened to be awesome:

Schiaparelli was an ardent rebel and feminist who came of age at a moment of ferment in art and politics that ratified her disdain for conformity. Schiaparelli was involved with the Dada movement at its inception in Greenwich Village, after the First World War.

to top it off, she made gorgeous designs that even eighty years later, are astoundingly wearable and modern.

Plastic by Richard and Judith Long, 2011 which reminds me so much of Schiaparelli's 1938 design

who wouldn't want this as a compact mirror? hard to believe it was designed in 1935

Anna Batista does a great job pointing out how schiaparelli’s influence can be seen even in ready-to-wear collections from last season in her article about the evolution of vintage, Vintage Mutations. i think her point is best illustrated with these two pairs of sunglasses juxtaposed. which ones were made in 1937, and which in 2011?

perma-scowl often makes me half-laugh, half-cry in solidarity when she posts schiaparelli’s designs on her tumblr with comments like “crying over you” and “all of my sighs/crys.” some of her designs are just so astoundingly beautiful and you want them on your body so bad, it DOES feels tragic that you can’t. why yes, i am being a bit overdramatic, but drama is part of why i love her work! her collaborations with jean cocteau and salvador dali can attest to that.

Cocteau Jacket, 1937 by  Elsa Schiaparelli

Cocteau Jacket, 1937 collaboration with Elsa Schiaparelli

cocteau and schiaparelli collaboration

Photo of daring Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli modeling her Shoe Hat
Schiaparelli designed dress, Viscose-rayon and silk blend fabric printed with trompe l'oeil print

Tear Dress, collaboration with Dali

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, “this dress was part of Schiaparelli’s famous ‘Circus Collection’ of 1938. It was a riotous, swaggering fashion show that attracted a great deal of publicity. Clothes were decorated with acrobats and performing animals. The models wore clown hats and carried balloon-shaped handbags. The Tears and Skeleton dresses must have been doubly shocking amongst all this madcap gaiety. Dali’s patron, Edward James, gave these dresses to Ruth Ford, the sister of the Surrealist poet Charles Henri Ford.” sounds like my kind of drama.

to top it off, recently my long-time internet friend ‘tine sent me this message along with a link:

Bonjour Julia-

I’m reading this fabulous article in the New Yorker about designers Shiaparelli and Prada. It references the politics of fashion, feminism, communism and thought of you.

Here’s the link: http://m.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/03/26/120326fa_fact_thurman/

Enjoy!
Christine

what a compliment! and what a great read. the article itself is more of a juxtaposition between Prada and Schiaparelli but still worth a read, regardless of your interest in either (or both) of those designers.

i could go on and on about how much i love her designs and her work and her collaborations with dali (which in my opinion are the best works dali produced) but instead i’ll just leave you with a bunch of photos of her gorgeous designs and some recommended reading. enjoy!

fall 1938

yes, the evening gowns are nice to look at for daydreaming purposes, but i can’t help but forever lust over her trompe l’oeil sweater designs from the 30s – which i could wear to work tomorrow.

Green, black and yellow wool Schiaparelli Sweater, 1930s

Wool Schiaparelli Sweater, 1930s

and last but not least, she is responsible for some awesome accessories – including these in your face frames.

Vintage Schiaparelli Cat Eye Eyeglasses Frame

Vintage Schiaparelli Cat Eye Eyeglasses Frames

in summary: someone please be my sugar mama/papa, buy me all of these things so i can drape myself in gorgeous art. please and thank you. i hope you enjoyed the eye candy.

RECOMMENDED READING:

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