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:


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.



Filed under fashion, vintage

13 responses to “currently: designer elsa schiaparelli

  1. k

    The Tear Dress reminds me of the Roach Dress Ricki Lake wore in John Water’s film Hairspray. Perhaps it (Tear Dress) gave the costume designer inspiration. Great post!

  2. If there was only I way I could express how much of a genius she was! 🙂 Great post


  4. I love the sweaters and sunglasses!
    I’d heard of Schiaparelli before but didn’t really know much about her or her work- great post! 🙂

  5. i love the way that you write! some of the pieces that you included here i have never seen before. i am really stoked on reading about her further!

  6. andibgoode

    Yesssss! Love her designs. I blame her (& Dali of course) for my now being unable to resist lobster items. There’s no other explanation!
    I’ve got to start reading your posts when I actually have time to read everything you link to as well!
    -Andi x

    • andibgoode

      I also need that tear dress. And the shoe hat! And the skeleton dress! Gah. And the sunglasses. Sigh. I’m pretty sure I can tell which is which because I’ve spent far far too long looking at vintage sunglasses online & the plastics are different.

  7. I love Shiaparelli- her work combines two of my passions- wonderful clothing and surrealism. Just one note- my take on the history of Dadaism is it originated in Zurich- The Greenwich Village crew behaved in a DaDa-ist way but did not use the label/issue manifestos like the Zurich branch did? Or am I being too geeky. 😉

    • andibgoode

      Pretty sure Dada was still used by them (though perhaps not from their inception as they engaged in similar activities at the same time as, though independently from those in Zurich). Picabia travelled between NY, Zurich, Paris & was a link between the groups. Man Ray & Duchamp had a publication called New York Dada so…
      New York Dadaists were generally more concerned with ‘mocking the art world’ than WWI like the European Dadaists were, though.
      (I’ve read more about Dada when it moved to Berlin (as I love the work of Hannah Hoch) than anywhere else, really.)

  8. ldvnicole

    When I first found out about her when I was a teenager I was so shocked I literally fell out of my chair, I thought oh crap these were things I was about to design, we must have been friends or related in a past life! I still feel so at home when I see any of her pieces as if I was a part of them.

  9. Pingback: Julia Caron’s Take on Elsa Schiaperellia | Button B

  10. Pingback: knowledge, power and “feminist” fashion blogs | À l'allure garçonnière

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