When you think of women as fashion designers, most people probably think of Vivienne Westwood or Coco Chanel, but very few have ever heard of a woman who even today embodies the image of a modern and emancipated woman: Elsa Schiaparelli.
A role model, but not a feminist
Elsa Schiaparelli should be clearly known, because she could be a great role model for today’s women, even though she herself was not a feminist and not enthusiastic about women’s rights activists of her time.
The family and the culture
At the age of nineteen, Elsa Schiaparelli studied philosophy at the age of nineteen, and published the book of poetry “Arethusa” in 1911, which deeply outvoted her strictly religious parents (unfortunately, I find nowhere a copy of the book).
Marriage, USA and mother alone
At the age of 22 Elsa Schiaparelli went to England, where she married. In 1919 she emigrated with her husband to the USA, where he left her and her daughter for a mistress and Elsa Schiaparelli was a single mother.
Back to the roots
Around 1922, Elsa Schiaparelli returned to Europe with her daughter almost destitute and went to Paris, where she built her fashion empire.
The shocking artist of fashion
Elsa Schiaparelli started her career in fashion with a trompe l’oeil knit sweater.
Her fashion was influenced by the surrealist and Dadaist artists of her time, such as Salvador Dalí, with whom she had many collaborations, for example, the shoe hat and Lobster dress for Wallis Simpson, the bourgeois wife of the retired British King Edward VIII emerged. She was also inspired by her travels through the world, such as her trip to India, from which they brought her Shocking Pink, which was one of the marks of her designs.
The fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli was revolutionary in many ways. She was the first fashion designer to bring the zipper into haute couture and her button designs are still legendary.
But not only her fashion was daring for her time, even her complete marketing was second to none at the time. What we take for granted today, among others, was developed by this single mother in Paris before the Second World War.
I have created a Pinterest pinboard with the designs by Elsa Schiaparelli for you.
Death and rebirth
After the Second World War Elsa Schiaparelli could unlike her rival Coco Chanel no longer build on her previous success.
In 1952 she closed her studio and until 2014 the label Schiaparelli became more and more a pure source of inspiration for designers like Jean Paul Gaultier (you can find a Pinterest pinboard on clothes that is similar to Schiaparelli). But if you look at their designs, you will find that many of the trends of the past few years, which could also be found at H&M, are due to Schiaparelli.
Although one could have the impression that everything that is left of Schiaparelli is nothing more than the appearance of a dead star, the label was brought back in 2014. As a pure Haute Couture label, it is still mostly known to people in the fashion industry, but even more so.
Again I put you a Pinterest pinboard with pictures together.
Books about Elsa Schiaparelli
Vogue on Elsa Schiaparelli
I can warmly recommend this book to you.
This biography written by Judith Watt mainly deals with Elsa Schiaparelli’s work as a fashion designer.
The structure of the book is very good, but I particularly like the historical photographs and illustrations, which also allow the non-expert reader to empathize with the subject matter.
This is treated in detail, without being too dry, so it is pleasant to read for all those interested.
“Vogue on Elsa Schiaparelli” you get here on Amazon for 48.88€.
Coco Chanel und Elsa Schiaparelli: Zwei Frauen Leben ihren Traum
This little book is probably one of the most exciting books on Elsa Schiaparelli, even if only her competitor Coco Chanel decorates the cover.
Some say that there was a fight between these two so different women, others say it was a clever marketing strategy … But no matter what it was, they were clearly competitors.
This book first treats these two women side by side and compares them in detail. For me, this book by Gertrud Lehnert is an absolute must for anyone who deals with either Chanel, Schiaparelli or both. One was the antipode for the other and conditioned each other.
“Coco Chanel und Elsa Schiaparelli” you get here at Amazon currently for 16,80€. So far, this book appeared exclusively in German.
Conclusion and confessions
I hope you got a good impression of Elsa Schiaparelli.
Considering that still today it is incredibly difficult for women, especially single moms, to have a successful career in the profession, here it shows how incredibly Elsa Schiaparelli was ahead of her time. Maybe also our time.
Even if she was not a women’s rights activist, she had lived what women’s rights activists have demanded to this day. Elsa Schiaparelli met the men on the job at eye level and as a business partner.
I’ve omitted some interesting facts about them, you can see them in documentaries, like Arte, or read them in the books.
Otherwise, there is a small but fine documentation of M2M – Made to Measure titled “Minidoc Chanel vs. Schiaparelli” on YouTube.
But I have one thing to tell you: I have not even read the most important book by Elsa Schiaparelli myself.
The missing book
In contrast to Coco Chanel, who immortalized herself in thousands of interviews, Elsa Schiaparelli wrote an autobiography.
“Shocking Life: The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli” is still on my own reading list. I’ve been told that her writing style really should be interesting. Although I would love to read “Arethusa” as well, it still itches in my fingers to sink into the pages of “Shocking Life”.
If you want to read it before me, you can order it here for 11.79€ on Amazon and write me in the comments, how you liked it!
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