Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Reopening of Elsa Schiaparelli's Doors

Silhouette of Elsa Schiaparelli

I’m sure that after hearing news of the 2012 MET Costume Institutes exhibition, “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations”, many of us were stumped when we heard the word “Schiaparelli”. Considering she closed her salon doors in 1954 even though we may not have known who she was considering our modern era of popular designers (i.e. Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, and Calvin Klien); her influence spawned many of the principals and developments of modern fashion.  The real exciting news about the fashion house is that they will be reopening this July, and at the same salon Schiap’s original salon was located in Paris, no less! Farida Khelfa has been named the new brand ambassador, but we will have to wait until October until they announce their Creative Director [source]. Below are some more photos from the exhibition, courtesy of, and once again, going back to my personal “Bible of Fashion”, “In My Fashion”, by Bettina Ballard, I wanted use Ms. Ballard’s words as evidence of Schiaparelli’s greatness and splendor, and what we should be expecting to see from this design house who will be picking up where it left off more than 50 year ago:

“The 1930’s was height of her fame…In later years, when times softened, the very things that had helped make her fame now played her false. She belonged to a definite space of time in which she filled a definite fashion need. She changed the outline of fashion from soft to hard, from vague to definite…If Schiaparelli’s strong fashion dictatorship did not survive the war it was because she belonged to indelibly to the calculated frivolity of prewar Paris.”

 “She branched out into the couture to glorify the hard elegance of the ugly woman.”

   “To be shocking was the snobbism of the moment, and she was the leader in this art…Paris was in a mood for shocks and Elsa Schiaparelli could present hers in well-cut forms and with an elegance that no one could deny.”

  “The only person who really counted in her life was her daughter, Gogo, and everything that either the mother of daughter did or said was news. Schiaparelli’s genius for publicity has been rivaled only by Christian Dior. Her outspokenness during her days of fame was all part of the Schiaparelli shock treatment.”

“She was clever in persuading such artists as Berard, Cocteau, Drian, and Vertes to do prints for her before designer prints had ever been thought of…She worked on mad new fabrics with Colcombet and Staron, prodding them on to daring experiments that frightened their conservative souls….She permitted Vertes to paint sophisticated, faintly suggestive advertisements for her perfume called “Shocking” which created a new, seductive approach to the sale of perfume.”

  “Certainly she used color with the boldness of Picasso, and the drama that she produced with black was even more outspoken than that with colors, particularly her use of gold embroidery with black."

“Schiaparelli’s clothes were always photogenic, and no artist ever did a bad sketch of a model (sample piece of clothing)—they had such sureness of line, such boldness…many of the smartest women wore her clothes to the smartest places where they were invariably targets for every camera…When she introduced the long dinner suit for evening wear, it became a uniform for concerts, theaters, and night clubs, overshadowing all softer, more feminine costumes, particularly when towering hats or feather headdresses were added.”

You can see how society celebrated the opening of this exhibition at the annual MET Gala here.


 “Her day suits were the backbone of her collection and of many women’s
wardrobes—including mine. They were a break from the traditional tailor-made, with a definite Schiaparelli personality in an underplayed way, excellent backgrounds for dramatic hats and jewels, the forerunner of the perfect Balenciaga suit of today. The only nonsense to these suits was the buttons. She was the first couturier to use the button as decoration.  In the thirties, it was a badge of being well dressed to wear a Schiaparelli suit and her “little black dress” was a fashion byline.”

“She started the wide, exaggerated shoulder, using padding, gathers, soutache braid, aigrettes, coque feathers, anything decorative to accentuate her point. She invented the evening sweater, dinner slacks, separates in general, showing amusing irresistible variations in her boutique on the ground floor of her couture house at 21 Place Vendome. Hers was the first important boutique in the couture, and it was the part of her business to hold its own the longest.”

  “Elsa Schiaparelli never wanted to be bored by her business or to bore her customers. She was born with a shock device in her designing hand…I loved writing cabled reports to Vogue after all the Schiaparelli collections as it was so easy to remember all of the amusing details and the drama of the show.”

      “Schiaparelli traveled adventurously, collecting unusual objects and ideas as she went along. She had the ability to translate what she found wherever she went into smart fashions without any of the arty quality that so often goes with travel-inspired clothes. (Actually, the shocking pink, the vivid turquoise blue, and saffron yellow that she used so frequently may all have come from the pained doorways of the white Tunisian houses).” 

       There are still many women who yearn for the confidence that her clothes gave them. A Schiaparelli customer did not have to worry as to whether she was beautiful or not—she was a type. She was noticed wherever she went, protected by an armor of amusing conversation-making smartness. Her clothes belonged to Schiaparelli more than they belonged to her—it was like borrowing someone else’s chic and, along with it, their assurance.

You can see how society celebrated the opening of this exhibition at the annual MET Gala here.

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