Everyone knows Coco Chanel, but a very few know her great rival Elsa Schiaparelli, a fabulous fashion designer from Italy.
Elsa Schiaparelli was an atypical designer who had a great influence on all her contemporaries, but whose name has not remained like a fashion brand until our days. A rare breed whose life and work deserve to be remembered.
She was born in Rome in 1890 into a wealthy family closely linked to culture and science. She married with the count and intellectual William de Wendt de Kerlor. They moved to New York where Elsa became a gap between modernity and the art world of the city. Her interest in spiritualism translated into a natural affinity for the art of the Dada and Surrealist movements and her friendship with Gaby Picabia facilitated entry into this creative circle which comprised noteworthy members such as Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Alfred Stieglitz, Salvador Dalí and Edward Steichen.
Schiaparelli left New York for France in 1922 after her divorce with William. The self-made associations she formed over the years along with the eminent social position held by her Italian family combined to ensure that she would be embraced by desirable social circles on her return to France.
Encouraged by her artist friends, Elsa opened a boutique in Paris in the early 1920s that would remain open until 1954.
While Chanel opted for austerity, Schiaparelli was striving to create garments that were more striking, full of details, and innovate with cuts.
Her creations were among the earliest in including fuchsia or turquoise color, as well as materials never before used in clothing such as plastic.
Her original creations seduced the surrealists, who worked side by side with her to make pieces as unforgettable as they were impossible. Oriental-inspired party costumes, strong colors, flowing fabrics.
She was the first to create wide lines of bathing and sport for the woman, including a kind of skirt pants to be able to play tennis with comfort. Her style, sometimes offensive to the demure ladies of the time, was much to the liking of loyal customers like Wallis Simpson, Daisy Fellowes or Marlene Dietrich. In short, women who broke with and did not conform to the conventional.
After World War II, European fashion was dominated by austerity. Schiaparelli’s coloring and hedonism were not well accepted in a new society that still mourned the horrors of war. She closed her boutique in 1954 and retired from fashion. She gave witness to Coco Chanel, who just that year reopened her store in Paris. The rest is history. Elsa died in Paris in 1973 and away from fashion