1890 – 1973
Elsa Schiaparelli was probably the brightest and most eccentric figure of the twentieth century fashion world. It is no exaggeration to say that she, thanks to her bright individuality and numerous inventions, radically changed the fashion and people’s attitude to it. Along with the little black dress, which was often present in her collections, Elsa, with her inherent sense of humor, created accessories that were unlike anything else. For example, hats shaped like a lamb chop, an ice cream cone or a shoe.
Elsa Schiaparelli was born in 1890 to a rich and noble family in Rome, where she spent her childhood. She was, frankly speaking, an unusual child. Her bright independent character caused many problems to her conservative family. Elsa insulted her mentors, nuns from the strict Roman Catholic Church school, and when she became older, she embarrassed her family coming to a ball in a dress that was just a piece of cloth wrapped around her body.
When she was 23, Elsa went to Paris and then to London. In London, she spent most of her time visiting museums and lectures. A year later, Schiaparelli married one of her teachers, the Franco-Swiss theosopher Count William de Wendt de Kerlor. After the wedding they moved to New York.
In 1919, Elsa Schiaparelli gave birth to a daughter, whom she named Gogo (or rather, Countess Maria Luisa Yvonne Radha de Wendt Kerlor, but her nickname was Gogo). But as soon as 1920, the marriage, which was far from being the last in Elsa’s life, broke up. The reason was financial difficulties and William's infidelity.
Divorce has inspired Elsa in her determination to succeed in the fashion world on her own. She moved to Paris and met with the famous designer Paul Poiret, who helped her a lot.
Elsa Schiapparelli had a rich imagination and courage. She has a huge number of inventions to her credit. Her career began with knitwear with unusual patterns and the ‘pour le Sport’ collection.
Elsa designed a women’s suit of men's cut with wide shoulders. It was worn by Marlene Dietrich and soon, many other Hollywood stars and ordinary women.
She used fancy buttons in her outfits, shaped, for example, as peanuts or bees, which were more like brooches, and invented the slide fastener.
Elsa also invented the divided skirt, presented Arabic pantaloons, embroidered shirts, wrapped turbans, red-manicured gloves, and much more.
Her shocking pink has become the signature color of the Schiapparelli fashion house.
Elsa's costume jewelry also reflects her unique style. Her most famous jewelry are necklaces, bracelets and clips with watermelon rhinestones - unusual, shimmering crystals. There’s also the tassel chain necklace – a necklace of twisted chains with a tassel of smaller chains.
Having gained success, Elsa opened a boutique on Place Vendôme in 1934. She became a pioneer in marketing, too. The way she presented her collections was unusual and bold for her time. She printed press releases on fabric and staged impressive shows. Skinny, tall models walked down the runway. And it was in those pre-war times, when the ideas about the ideal of beauty and ways to show clothes were very different.
Besides Paul Poiret, Elsa collaborated with the eccentric Salvador Dali. Their collaboration resulted in masterpieces such as the lobster dress, the skeleton dress and the shoe hat.
During the Second World War, she moved to America. Returning to Paris after the war, Elsa was no longer able to regain her former popularity. In 1954, she finally left the fashion world. Only her perfume (the most famous was the Shocking) kept selling well. Ironically, the same year her famous rival Gabrielle Chanel returned to the fashion business.
Until her death in 1973, Elsa lived between her home in Tunisia and an apartment in Paris.