Elsa Schiaparelli was more than just a designer, a couturier, a dressmaker. Her unbelievable resume, if you will, spans decades of highly original creation that changed the world of fashion forever. Her list of ‘firsts’ is like the most incredible to-do list. A champion in the art of trompe l’oeil, Schiaparelli’s first big break into fashion was designing a small collection of sweaters that were knitted with faux details, in the Twenties. Schiaparelli created some of the most arresting fashion ‘icons’ to date with her artist-friend collaborators like Salvador Dali, Berard, Magritte and Man Ray, yet another first in fashion, but certainly not the last to recognize the potential in the art-fashion connection.
Schiaparelli can also lay claim to being the first fashion designer to develop licenses for a house including the first designer eyewear license, she was the first to show short evening dresses and the mermaid silhouette in an haute couture collection, the first to show oversized accessories and jewelry and she developed the first foray into wrinkled fabrics. She also created the first one-piece swimsuit with a built-in bra, which is nothing short of revolutionary, just ask any woman today.
Schiaparelli was also the first designer to give her collections themes, her most iconic included the circus, zodiac and music themes which still resonate today. And of course she was most well-known for her integration of Surrealist design into her collections, inspiring many a designer to come, decades later. Those brilliant moments include a hat that was really a shoe turned upside-down, a powder compact fashioned as a telephone dial courtesy of Dali, as well as suits and dresses that had trompe l’oeil embroidered dresser drawers as pockets, also a collaboration with Salvador Dali. And you can’t forget Schiap’s infamous lobster print that appeared on a dress worn by one of the most stylish women of all time, the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson. And the list goes on. I told you so.
But unfortunately all of this innovation comes with a price. Back in the day, Schiaparelli’s success and fashion fame made her the ultimate foe to one Ms. Coco Chanel, their rivalry was the stuff of legend. Today, designers sit front row at one another’s shows in the ultimate show of respect and support. Thankfully, times have changed.
For many years the house of Schiaparelli has been like a lady in waiting; quiet, patient and bursting at the seams. After a few false starts in recent seasons (first with Christian Lacroix and then Marco Zanini), the new Creative Director Bertrand Guyon hit the ground running with his first Haute Couture collection for Fall 2015. Careful not to overdo with over-the-top innuendo and kitschy references to Madame S., Guyon successfully straddled the line between past and present. And in this case, present won. And so will the couture client lucky enough to own any of these looks and accessories, of course.
No wacky lobsters or upside-down shoes here, the collection is filled with luxurious brocades, gilded embroideries, signature prints, stitched evening capes and just the right amount of Schiaparelli pink. Trompe l’oeil clutches, brooches and sculptural headpieces are perfectly reverential and should tickle the fancy of all fashion-obsessed women, not just the privileged few who buy HC. This revival should inspire us to take a fresh approach to our daily dress, adding in touches of humor and wit, even if we’re the only one in on the joke. I have a feeling Elsa Schiaparelli would have wanted it that way.