Elsa Schiaparelli: Fashion Designer

Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the most influential and groundbreaking clothing designers of the twentieth century. Schiaparelli’s haute couture wear and accessories are known for their lurid designs and artistic influences made famous during the late 1920s.

Born in Rome in September 10, 1890, Schiaparelli was brought up by strict and conservative parents. At a young age of 18 and at her rebellious nature, she ran away to London where she met and married a Polish count. In the first World War, their relationship ended and Schiaparelli returned to Europe and started her career with her design of a black knit sweater with a large white bowtie motif. In 1927, she opened her first boutique, "pour le Sport," which specialized in sports wear in her signature vivid designs.

Her likeness for the unusual was evident in the materials and fabrics she employed, for example the use of shoulder pads, animal prints, scarves with newspaper-print designs, and colorful zippers. During the Depression, she highlighted shoulders with pleats, braid, or padding and made hard-looking dresses for daytime wear. But her evening dresses stayed glamorous and elegant, with her clients including popular movie stars, duchess, and heiress.

Her surrealist designs became more popular in the 1930s. Schiaparelli even invited famous surrealist artists which included Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau and Man Ray to help in her designs. The ‘shocking pink’ color was also one of her inventions, inspired by the pink gemstone one of her best clients, Singer sewing machine heiress Daisy Fellowes, who famously wore her Dali-designed hat which was shaped like a lamb chop. She designed a number of perfumes, the most famous of which was Shocking, more notable for the packaging than the fragrance itself. Designed by surrealist artist Leonor Fini, it features a shocking pink colored box and a bottle shaped like a woman’s torso.

In 1935, Schiaparelli opened a large salon in Place Vendome, employed four hundred people, and resided in an 18th Century mansion. By the time of the Second World War, her business slowed down as younger designers like Christian Dior became the trend setters. In 1954, her couture house eventually went bankrupt and she was forced to move to the United States. Returning to Paris after the war, her designs were not that popular as before but she still made a lot of money out of her perfume line. She was also into designing custom jewelry.

Her greatest rival was Coco Chanel, who was more famous for her suits and small black dresses. Chanel made a bitchy remark to the famous fashion designer as "that Italian artist who makes clothes." But Schiap, as she was known to her friends, would be best known for her bright use of colors and arrangement of shapes and textures. Schiaparelli passed away in 1973 but her marvelous creations are long remembered and remain a major influence in today’s fashion designers.

 
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