Elsa Schiaparelli - Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World - Ann Shen

Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World - Ann Shen (2016)

Elsa Schiaparelli

A pussy bow-tie collar knit into the sweater pattern. Cardigans with candlestick-shaped buttons. Gloves with painted red fingernails. A dress featuring a Salvador Dalí-painted lobster, garnished elegantly with sprigs of parsley. These seemingly modern clothes were actually the brainchildren of fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973). Born to wealthy Italian parents, Schiaparelli escaped to America at an early age instead of marrying the wealthy Russian suitor her family had lined up for her. In the United States, she married a vaudeville charlatan who posed as a doctor and practiced fortune-telling and get-rich-quick schemes. After her husband left her and their infant daughter (nicknamed “Gogo”), Schiaparelli went to Paris and took up with the Surrealist and Dadaist social circle.

Never one to rely solely on her parents’ money, Schiaparelli got a job assisting Man Ray with his Dada magazine Société Anonyme and was mentored by famed couturier Paul Poiret. She began making her own clothes with Poiret’s technique of draping directly on the figure, since she had no formal fashion training. In 1927, she launched a collection of knitwear that applied a trompe l’oeil (illusion of reality; literally “trick of the eye”) to clothing for the first time. Her line thrived in the era between the two world wars, when individuality was celebrated, and her innovative designs changed the course of fashion for women. She invented the wrap dress, the divided skirt (forerunner to shorts), swimsuits with built-in bras, and an evening dress with a matching jacket (which became very popular as the “speakeasy dress” during the U.S. Prohibition era). After World War II ended and Christian Dior’s “New Look” swung the fashion pendulum back to conformity, Schiaparelli’s business closed, but her influence endures—in 2013, her brand was revived as an haute couture house by Italian fashion magnate Diego Della Valle.

Surrealist fashion designer