Undeservedly forgotten legend

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Blow up the conservative world, put familiar concepts of taste and elegance upside down, challenge the fashion, letting unimaginable combinations of eye-cutting colors and shades onto the catwalk, while clearly observing the line beyond which style ends and vulgarity begins … At the beginning of the twentieth century it was an unheard audacity, on which only she dared — Elsa Schiaparelli, desperately bold and equally ingenious, undeservedly forgotten legend from haute couture from the distant 30s.
Schiaparelli’s breakthrough consisted primarily in the fact that she was the only staunch and consistent surrealist in fashion, while surrealism was extremely popular. And if many designers just indulged in the ideas of surrealism, then she used them for real.
Elsa Schiaparelli is primarily interested in the boldness of her works, their originality. What she created, by all means, undermined the foundations of the fashion world of her time and became a sensation. For the first time about a talented girl started talking in the late 20s of the last century. Even then, her work seemed very unusual. The first collection, which she presented to the audience in 1927 (The Financial Times, 2014), consisted of sweaters, the ornament of which used African motives and drawings of sailor tattoos. A pattern in the form of snakes, anchors, lobsters, unusual sea ornaments … The fashion world of that time has not yet seen anything like it.
She always kept pace with the times, strived forward and created freely, not looking at criticism. The next stage in Elsa’s professional life was a collection of sportswear. A young, ambitious fashion designer received a large order from the Strauss store, and it was this order for wool products that brought Schiaparelli the first real fame in the fashion world. However, Elsa never stopped there. She was looking for new ideas. Later in 1927, aviation became the main source of inspiration for Schiaparelli, and after the flight of Charles Lindberg across the Atlantic, she created a series of models that formed the basis of the “pilot” style, which is still popular today.
In the early 30s, Elsa is experimenting with the creation of evening dresses. And success again. The fashion world is in awe of her long black crepe case-dress, the elegance of which was emphasized by a white jacket and scarf slung over her back. Inspired by the success, Elsa opens one of the world’s first boutiques in the center of Paris (Watt, 2012). She offers … evening sweaters were worn with long skirts, blouses and imitation jewelry. And this is another sensation. Colleagues-designers meet the idea with imitation jewelry ridicule because until now, most of them used natural stones. But customers are delighted, and this decides the fate of the original new products.
“Two words have been banned from my house – the word ‘creation’ and the word ‘impossible’”(Watt, 2012), said Elsa Schiaparelli, and always firmly followed this principle, what definitely was doing her justice.
Extraordinary ideas of Elsa very quickly found worthy fans in the highest-level creative bohemia. Her clients were Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford. «Stars» ordered from the designer, not only stage costumes, but also outfits for everyday life. The Hollywood leadership even concluded a multi-year contract with Elsa, while the collaboration with Coco Chanel The Dream Factory documented just for one year.
Hats with the shapes of shoes, circus acrobats and elephants embroidered on dresses, wings with sleeves and golden sun all over their backs — all these are “branded” ideas of genius Elsa, which was later quoted by many designers, but in the thirties of the last century were perceived as shock. In fact, “shock” is Schiaparelli’s favorite word. Almost everything she did in fashion was designed specifically for this reaction. She styled a stunningly bright pink and called it «shocking pink» (Watt, 2012).
Elsa was friends with Salvador Dali. The great artist came up with a phone bag for her, according to his sketches a dress with lobster surrounded by parsley leaves (Rochell, 2017), a famous jacket with pockets in the form of drawers and the main decoration of the boutique Schiaparelli — a pink sofa in the form of lips of actress May West (Jones, 2007) — were created. But the most amazing work of Elsa of this period could be called a dress with the image of a tear, the design of which could be seen only from a certain distance or from a certain angle of view (Wall Street Journal, 2007). When Schiaparelli appeared in this mirage dress in public, it caused general bewilderment: attracted by an unusual pattern from a distance, people could not find it close.
She was well ahead of her time — much of what was invented by Elsa Schiaparelli entered mass fashion only 40-50 years later. Schiaparelli was the first couturier who began to organize promotional photo shoots in museums and turned an ordinary fashion show into a dazzling show. Not limited to shocking pink, Elsa experimented boldly with flowers: she combined purple and olive, turquoise and grape, and offered red stockings to a black dress. Each designer collection produced a sensation.
With all the uniqueness of his talent, Schiaparelli was not destined to reign supreme on the world podium. Indeed, at the same time, another no less prominent person in the fashion world lived and worked with her — the legendary Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel. The queens of world fashion were ardent rivals, and in the war with each other, they used all available means: they lured each other models, clients, and slandered. The European society followed their hostility throughout the 30s. Chanel tried to work with Hollywood but found it unnecessary for herself, Schiaparelli achieved tremendous success at the Dream Factory and, in addition, lured away many clients from Chanel in Paris. Chanel proclaimed the cult of the body, Schiaparelli — the cult of the spirit. Speaking about her rival, Coco was extremely laconic and called her none other than “that Italian” (Little Black Dress, 2014). In turn, Elsa did not say anything about Chanel, as if that one did not exist in nature. It is said that at one of the receptions, Coco Chanel kindly sat her rival on a newly painted chair, noting that this would only benefit Elsa because of the brightness and diversity of her wardrobe. Schiaparelli was not in debt and often expressed her feelings for her rival with Koko’s caricatures on her new masterpieces. The spice of their relationship was added by the fact that Gabrielle and Elsa collaborated and were friends with the same people. And yet, their relationship never rolled to the tabloid scandals. It was a rivalry between two goddesses of the world of fashion.
Chanel sought to maintain style and preferred to use fabrics of a modest dull color without finishing. Elsa also went to the provocation, used luxurious materials and styles, shocked the fashionable audience with the unimaginable decor. If Chanel created classic costumes with golden buttons, then Schiaparelli sewed sari dresses, invented fancy buttons in the form of coins, necklaces with plastic insects and strange appliqués in the form of animals.
It is difficult to say now which of them then belonged to the palm of the trendsetter. Many consider the 30s as an epoch of diarchy. However, Chanel, apparently inspired by the rivalry with Elsa, at the end of the decade impressed everyone with unexpected extravagance, creating golden lame dresses that looked like gold bars, and «gypsy» dresses with colors and frills of the national flag of France. In addition, fashion historians note that the emphasized feminine image created by Schiaparelli, noticeably pressed on the catwalks the classic straight masculine silhouette, the author of which was Chanel.
Unfortunately, Elsa Schiaparelli ruled the fashion world for a short time. New times have come, with new names and ideas. People wanted to get away from luxury and wealth in clothes, they were more and more attracted to the universal utilitarian style. The championship in it, of course, kept Coco Chanel, now competing with Christian Dior.
As for “that Italian” … Once at the end of her career, she said: “Dress designing is to me not a profession but an art. I found it was the most difficult and unsatisfying art because as soon as the dress is born it has already become a thing of the past” (Cain, 2017). But in this brilliant Elsa, perhaps, still mistaken. And gradually her name was forgotten, hiding in the shadow of progress and in the next decades, despite innovations, courage, and talent, she could not resist the passage of time.

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