Elsa Schiaparelli

A true fashion maverick, Elsa Schiaparelli, took her inspiration from a newly blossoming world of modern art. She designed pieces based on movements like surrealism, dadaism, and cubism. She believed fashion design to be an art in its own right. She famously said that dresses need not fit the body but bodies should fit the dress. She could be seen as the “anti-Chanel” as they were contemporaries of one another. While Chanel focused on the wearer of her clothes, Schiaparelli held creative expression above all else.

Elsa Schiaparelli grew up in a wealthy Italian family. She felt confined by the ‘proper’ attitudes of her family and rebelled at an early age. Her parents sent her to boarding school but the plan backfired and Schiaparelli ran away to Paris. She lived a life of adventure and passion and eventually fell into a friendship with French designer Paul Poiret. He encouraged her to try her hand at designing clothing and she made her first sweaters with a tromp l'oeil design. They were an instant success. Uniquely crafted scarves, belts, and men’s ties followed and allowed Schiaparelli to open her first boutique in 1927.

The House of Schiaparelli produced numerous iconic designs. She is credited with creating the first wrap dress, she used zippers as focal points in her designs instead of hiding them, she sculpted masterful shoes and hats that could be seen as wearable art pieces. She also commissioned pieces for various artists, most notably the lobster dress she made of Salvador Dali that came decades before Lady Gaga was even born. Her influence can be felt in the avant-garde fashions of today and in 2012 her early work was brought to the forefront in the exhibit, Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations at the Met, comparing her work to her successor, Miuccia Prada.


Elsa Schiaparelli