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Italian-born fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s

Italian-born fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s

Between the two world wars, fashion design was dominated by two extraordinary pioneers, Gabrielle Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973). Whereas Coco Chanel was a craftswoman who considered dressmaking a profession, Schiaparelli, on the other hand, regarded her work as art and herself as an artist.  

Schiaparelli’s designs were heavily influenced by artists in the dada and surrealist movements, particularly by Salvador Dali.  While Chanel’s clothes were known for their simplicity, Schiaparelli’s were known for their daring.

“Shocking-pink” was Schiaparelli’s signature color. She described hot pink as “life-giving, like all the light and the birds and the fish in the world put together, a color of China and Peru but not of the West.”

Schiaparelli shoe-hat which debuted in her Fall-Winter 1937-38 collection

Schiaparelli shoe-hat which debuted in her Fall-Winter 1937-38 collection

The designs Schiaparelli created in collaboration with Dali are among her best known. One of her most memorable designs created with Dali is known as the “shoe-hat” (shown here). Note that the hat is shaped like a woman’s high-heeled shoe, with the heel standing straight up and the toe tilted over the wearer’s forehead. The heel is of a shocking-pink color. This hat was worn by Singer sewing machine heiress Daisy Fellowes, among others.

Daisy Fellowes was one of Schiaparelli’s best clients. Fellowes was a French-American heiress with a taste for expensive jewels and clothes and a reputation for cutting remarks. “Though a footnote today, for nearly 50 years, Fellowes, the daughter of a French duke and granddaughter of the sewing-machine magnate Isaac Merritt Singer, was the trans-Atlantic fete set’s No. 1 bad girl.” She was also editor in chief of French Harper’s Bazaar, a philanthropist who donated her salary to an orphanage, and the author of a few sexy romance novels.

movie siren Mae West (1893-1980) by Miguel Covarrubias, 1928, for the New Yorker

a caricature of the American movie actress, the provocative Mae West (1893-1980) by Miguel Covarrubias, 1928, for the New Yorker magazine

Among other jewels purchased at Cartier‘s shop at 13 rue de la Paix in Paris, Fellowes owned a stunning 17.27ct pink diamond  called the Tête de Belier (Ram’s Head). It was Fellowes’ pink diamond that inspired the color known as shocking-pink or hot pink. Elsa Schiaparelli took note of the diamond, using shocking pink for the box design of her 1937 perfume which she named “Shocking.” The packaging of the box, designed by Leonor Fini, was also notable for the bottle in the shape of a woman’s torso. The shape was inspired by another of Schiaparelli’s celebrity clients, the American screen actress Mae West.

The Lobster Dress by Elsa Schiaparelli

The Lobster Dress by Elsa Schiaparelli

Another of the Schiaparelli/Dali designs is the iconic “Lobster Dress” which debuted in Schiaparelli’s Summer/Fall 1937 Collection. The Lobster dress is a simple white silk evening dress with a crimson waistband featuring a large lobster painted (by Dali) onto the skirt.It is rumored that Dali wanted to apply real mayonnaise to the lobster on the dress but that Schiaparelli objected.

Dali’s lobster design for Schiaparelli was then interpreted into a fabric print by the leading silk designer Sache. It was famously worn by Wallis Warfield Simpson in a series of photographs by Cecil Beaton taken at the Château de Candé shortly before her marriage to Edward VIII. (shown here)

Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor (1895-1986), photo Cecil Beaton (1904-80). UK, early 20th century.

Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor (1895-1986), photo Cecil Beaton (1904-80). UK, early 20th century.

 Dali had been incorporating lobsters into his mixed media creations since 1934, most famously with “Lobster Telephone” (1936).

"Lobster Telephone," by Salvador Dali, 1936

"Lobster Telephone," by Salvador Dali, 1936

To see more of Schiaparelli’s fashion designs, click here.

A modern room with touches of Schiaparelli pink in the two chairs and flowers in foreground

A modern room with touches of Schiaparelli pink in the two chairs and flowers in foreground

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