One half of the Met’s Spring 2012 Costume Institute exhibition (with Miuccia Prada), Elsa Schiaparelli is enjoying a major moment in the fashion spotlight. The Italian designer, who was a rival and contemporary of Coco Chanel, was inspired by the Surrealists such as Salvador Dali and Alberto Giacometti and Dada. Schiaparelli (known as “Schiap” to her friends) had clients such as Mae West, Wallis Simpson and heiress Daisy Fellowes. She is credited with inventing culottes, fanciful buttons and fanciful prints of food and body parts and introducing wrapped turbans, wedge shoes and pompom-rimmed hats. The 1937 Lobster Dress, featuring a lobster painting by Dali, is one of her most famed designs.
Born into a life of privilege, she quickly escaped luxury so that she could focus on art and design in New York and then Paris. She launched a collection of knitwear in 1927, appeared in the pages of Vogue and expanded to swimwear, ski wear and linen dresses. The post-war era proved difficult for Schiaparelli and she officially closed her doors in 1954. After writing an autobiography, she lived between Paris and Tunisia until her death in 1973. She was grandmother to actress Marisa Berenson and the late Berry Berenson.
Elsa Schiaparelli (pictured above in her own design), autumn 1931. Photograph by Man Ray. c. 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
Wallis Simpson (pictured at right) in Elsa Schiaparelli, British Vogue, July 10, 1935. Photograph by Cecil Beaton / Vogue c. The Conde Nast Publications Ltd.