The Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris just released Shocking! The Surreal World of Elsa Schiaparelli” (until January 22, 2023), dedicated to the life and work of the eccentric Italian-born fashion designer.
A mentee of Paul Poiret and inspiration for Man Ray, for whom she modeled over the years, Schiaparelli presented her first designs in 1927 – a sweater collection playfully embellished with trompe l’oeil ties and bows. Over the next three decades, she developed a radical body of work shaped by her close association with the Parisian avant-garde.
The exhibition’s 577 pieces are displayed chronologically and thematically on two levels, including 212 of Schiaparelli’s most iconic creations and collaborations – from an animal skin-covered brass bracelet designed by Swiss artist Méret Oppenheim to an evening coat and suit jacket shaped by drawings by Jean Cocteau – alongside artworks by some of her most famous friends and contemporaries.
There is a special room dedicated to the designer’s work with Salvador Dalí – look there lobster dress and hat shoe– as well as a special cage for their perfumes, including Shocking, whose bottle was modeled after a woman’s torso (a first) by Argentine-Italian artist Leonor Fini, and Le Roy Soleil in limited edition Baccarat crystal bottles designed by Dalí.
As Schiaparelli said in 1954: “Being able to work with artists like Bébé Bérard, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dalí, Vertès and Van Dongen, with photographers like Hoyningen giant, Horst, Cecil Beaton and Man Ray was exciting. We felt helped, encouraged, to go well beyond the material and boring reality of making a dress to be sold.”
“Dull” is the antithesis of a so-called Schiap design; that has always been easy to see. But Schiaparelli’s larger influence – on fashion and femininity – was less recognized.
“She has evaded the role of muse to which so many women are reduced to focus on what is essential: being a customer, becoming a designer, never giving up, being true to yourself,” says Olivier Gabet, director of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, in an opinion.
Gabet continued, “She was full of panache, she was unconventionally attractive, the definition of chic for women everywhere — most notably Diana Vreeland — but she was also hardworking, visionary.”
Schiaparelli’s oeuvre has inspired countless designers, including designers such as Azzedine Alaïa, Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent and Hubert de Givenchy, whom she hired as her first assistant in 1947 at the age of 19.
The retrospective features pieces they created in their honor and culminates in a look by Daniel Roseberry, the house’s current artistic director, who reinterprets Schiaparelli’s surrealist legacy.
Below is a selection of works from the exhibition.
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