Elsa Schiaparelli: Fashion Meets Surrealism

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Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was the first designer to explore irony in fashion. She stands out for her sense of humour and wild imagination, which have made her one of the most influential fashion designers of her time. Schiaparelli’s designs are not only humorous but also thought provoking. She was, above all, an artist. Coco Chanel –her biggest rival– referred to her as ‘that Italian artist who makes clothes’.

Modern art, particularly Surrealism and Dadaism, were a great source of inspiration to her and she did many collaborations with artists of these movements, including Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau.

The Tears Dress, one of her collaborations with Dalí, is a beautiful evening gown in pale blue and magenta. The fabric is a trompe l’oeil print of rips and tears, designed to give the illusion of torn animal flesh worn inside out.

This year Christian Lacroix will be unveiling the 15-piece collection which he’s designed for the house of Schiaparelli in honor of her legacy. His designs wil be reinterpretations of her most famous creations, so it should definitely be something to look out for!

Tears Dress designed in collaboration with Salvador Dalí. Part of her 1938 Circus Collection.

Tears Dress designed in collaboration with Salvador Dalí. Part of her 1938 Circus Collection.

The original "Shoe Hat" designed in collaboration with Salvador Dalí, 1937.

The original “Shoe Hat” designed in collaboration with Salvador Dalí, 1937.

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Jacket designed in collaboration with Jean Cocteau for the Autumn collection of 1937

Gloves designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, 1935.

Gloves designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, 1935.

Schiaparelli's surreal giant fly brooch.

Schiaparelli’s surreal giant fly brooch.

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Schiaparelli’s “Eye” hat. 1950.

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3 Comments on “Elsa Schiaparelli: Fashion Meets Surrealism”

  1. […] In Britain, there are great examples of this exotic, uplifting sort of work. I love Eric Ravilious’s famous and strange mural for the Morecambe Hotel in Lancashire (it only lasted for two years – English Lakes Blog). It was created in 1933 and it is surrealist looking, fantastical, other worldly. It is a strange architectural fantasy which seems to reinterpret the contemporary fashionable ‘lido’ scene, in a modern neo-classical/art deco fashion. Apparently the artist and his wife disliked the new art deco style hotel which was built to attract American tourists. I wonder are the strangely two dimensional buildings in the painting a statement on the shallow materialism of the hotel’s purpose? It reminds me of film stage sets of the period, such as the unsettling British film The Red Shoes (Powell and Pressburger, 1948), which in itself is a surrealist film. In this era there was a strand of surrealist art and design which ran parallel to the functional modernist approach, which seems now like a sort of hegemonic juggernaut which pushed everything else to the sidelines. In architecture there are many examples of other creative approaches to the question of the ‘future of architecture’. Apart from, for example, the mathematician Buckminster Fuller’s (1895 – 1983) geodesic domes, Dymaxion houses and car (Buckminster Fuller Institute), Frank Lloyd Wright’s (1867-1959) organic and, I think, futuristic (not futurist) work (Frank Lloyd Wright Trust), there was Frederick Keisler’s (1890-1965) organic interiors and ‘Endless House’ designs (MOMA) . In fashion, surrealist designer Elsa Schiaperelli (Italian, 1890-1973) seemed to be the counterpoint to the more modernist Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel. She famously collaborated with Salvador Dali (Fashion meets surrealism). […]


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