There is so much I could write about this week's designer that it might need to be a two-parter!
Elsa Schiaparelli (pronounced Scap-a-reli) was born in 1890 in Italy. Growing up she loved the stories of ancient cultures and religions which inspired her to write poems based on the Greek myth of The Hunt. It alarmed her parents so much that they sent her away to boarding school in Switzerland. She rebelled against this move by going on hunger strike which forced her parents to bring her back home. At the age of 23 she fled to London to avoid marriage to a wealthy Russian suitor found for her by her parents. Whilst in London she attended a lecture on theosophy, the lecturer was a man called Willem de Wendt, who was actually a well known fraudster known as "The World Famous Dr W de Kerlor". They were engaged the day after meeting and married in July 1914. The following year de Kerlor was deported from England when he was convicted of fortune telling which was then illegal. They moved around France for a year before finally moving to the US in 1916. De Kerlor hoped to achieve fame and fortune through his paranormal and consulting work but instead was investigated by the Bureau of Investigation, an early incarnation of the FBI, for both his dodgy business practices and also for his anti-British pro-German allegiance during the war.
Their daughter Maria (nicknamed Gogo) was born later the same year and almost immediately de Kerlor left Elsa. They eventually divorced in 1924 and de Kerlor was murdered in 1928 in Mexico in circumstances which have never been revealed.
Whilst technically still married, she had an affair with the opera singer Mario Laurenti, and after his death in 1922, returned to Paris. Although she continued to receive financial support from her mother she felt the need to be independent and assisted Man Ray on his short-lived magazine before setting up a business with her close friend Gaby Picabia and Paul Poiret, with the intention of selling French Couture in the States, but the venture never took off and was abandoned.
With the encouragment of Poiret she started her own business but it closed again in 1926 despite receiving good reviews. In early 1927 she launched a smaller range of knitwear with a surrealist trompe l'oeil images of scarves at the neckline. When war was declared in 1939 her Spring 1940 range featured the colour "trench brown" and camouflage printed tafettas. In the Summer of 1940 she went to New York for a lecture tour and remained there until after the war. When she returned she found that fashions had changed, with Christian Dior's New Look marking a new direction in fashion. The House of Schiaparelli struggled in this new era and closed its doors in December 1954.
Her legacy, however, has been huge. She is widely credited with inventing the wrap dress (later popularised by Diane von Furstenburg), adding visible zip fastenings and loosening the silhouette to allow a freedom of movement - much like her great rival Coco Chanel - and using sportswear details in fashion. She was also the first person to create the divided skirt, a forerunner to shorts (so I have her to thank for my love of a culotte!) as well as innovative fabrics such as one that looked like bark, and an early faux fur. She also worked with artists such as Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau on collaborations, one of the most well known being the Lobster dress from 1937.
She also worked on several films as the costume designer and dressed Mae West in the '37 movie Every Day's A Holiday.
So, finally onto jewellery. She had a very distinctive style and her designs were produced by Schlumberger, Clement and Jean-Pierre. Schlumberger's designs proved particularly popular and he left to set up his own line in New York at the end of the '30's. She used Rhodoid (a newly created clear plastic) and studded it with metallic insects on a collar to look as if the insects themselves were directly on the wearer's skin. She also sold brooches by Alberto Giacometti and cuffs by Meret Oppenheim. But she is perhaps best known for Schlumberger's innovative combinations of precious and semi-precious stones.
The house was revived in 2007 when Diego Della Valle aquired the brand. It only became public when Mario Zanini was appointed at the helm in September 2013. It is now sold by appointment only from the atelier in Paris and was worn only last weekend at the wedding of designer Sabine Ghanem to Joseph Getty, as well as by Kate Blanchett at the Independent Spirit Awards in Febraury.
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