The Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris has just opened “Shocking! The Surreal World of Elsa Schiaparelli” (through January 22, 2023), dedicated to the life and work of the eccentric Italian-born couturier.
A mentee by Paul Poiret and an inspiration for Man Ray, which she modeled for over the years, Schiaparelli presented her first designs in 1927 – a collection of sweaters, playfully adorned with trompe-l’oeil ties and bows. Over the next three decades, she developed a radical work based on her close ties to the Parisian avant-garde.
The exhibition’s 577 objects are displayed chronologically and thematically across two levels, including 212 of Schiaparelli’s most iconic creations and collaborations – from a brass bracelet covered in animal fur, based on a design by Swiss artist Méret Oppenheim, to an evening coat and a suit. embossed with drawings by Jean Cocteau – along with works of art by some of her most famous friends and contemporaries.
There is a special room dedicated to the designer’s work with Salvador Dalí – see theirs Lobster dress and Hats– as well as a special cage for her perfumes, including Shocking, its bottle modeled after a woman’s torso (a first time) by Argentine-Italian artist Leonor Fini and Le Roy Soleil, in limited edition Baccarat crystal vials designed by Dalí.
As Schiaparelli said in 1954: “To be able to work with artists such as Bébé Bérard, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dalí, Vertès and Van Dongen, with photographers such as Hoyningen-Huene, Horst, Cecil Beaton and Man Ray were exciting. We felt helped, encouraged, far beyond the material and boring reality of making a dress to sell. “
“Dull” is the antithesis of a so-called Schiap design; it has always been easy to see. But Schiaparelli’s greater influence – on fashion and femininity – has become less recognized.
“She avoided the role of muse that so many women are reduced to, in order to concentrate on the essentials: being a customer, becoming a designer, never surrendering, being true to herself,” said Olivier Gabet, director of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, in a statement.
The gap continued: “She was full of enthusiasm, she was unconventionally attractive, the very definition of chic for women all over the world – Diana Vreeland most of all – but she was also hardworking, visionary.”
Schiaparelli’s oeuvre has informed countless designers, including the likes of Azzedine Alaïa, Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent and Hubert de Givenchy – whom she hired as her first assistant in 1947 when he was 19 years old.
The retrospective features pieces they created in her honor, culminating in a look by Daniel Roseberry, the house’s current artistic director, who reinterprets Schiaparelli’s surreal heritage.
Below you can see a selection of works from the exhibition.
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