Wednesday, May 9, 2012

< schiap 3

This is a post in which I gush over Elsa Schiaparelli and her designs. Prepare yourselves. I thought the timing was appropriate, considering last night's Met Gala for the Schiaparelli and Prada Exhibit: Impossible Conversations. I think this quote from Judith Thurman of The New Yorker, sums up their stylistic intersection really well: "They don’t really care what makes a woman desirable to men. Their work asks you to consider what makes a woman desirable to herself." Regardless of Miuccia's comments of how they are "complete opposites," or whatever, I feel differently. If anything, both women would say they are different from one another because they strive(d) to stand out, and didn't want to be like anyone else.

 I think my obsession, utter awe and fascination with Schiaparelli began when I received the book Fashion and Surrealism as a gift in High School. Her creations easily stood out to me amongst pictured artworks by Dali, Man Ray, Magritte, and Max Ernst. Til that moment I had never seen fashion that looked like art in itself, albeit fashion that was so ahead of its time. Her garments and accessories from the late 1920s-40s looked so modern and innovative.  If the dates were missing from the photos, one could easily guess they were made in 2012.

Skeleton dress, 1938

Winter Collection Gloves with gilded fingernails, 1935
Wedding veil, 1935


Since then I've probably spent countless hours looking through her archives, nerding out /pouring over books and back-issues of vintage magazines in my school library. And in the process, realizing how many designers have mined through her works as well (notably Rei Kawakubo, McQueen, YSL, Gaultier and Nicola Formichetti for Gaga's wardrobe). I've read her autobiography, Shocking Life, several times, and have chosen her for every creative, fashion-related assignment in class.

First and foremost, I love a good, headstrong rebel--one who chooses imagination and wonder over rules and regulations. In her youth, after seeing Leonardo Da Vinci's sketches of Icarus wings, Schiap jumped out of her second-story window with an umbrella to see if she could fly. To make 'beauty bloom' she swallowed plant seeds and put them in her ears and nose to see if she would turn into a flower. (Years later she would create seed-pot buttons and prints of flower seed packets.) She published erotic poetry in her local newspaper to the grave disheart and embarrassment of her conservative, aristocratic family and was sent to a convent. Wasn't she the coolest? She was kinda born to stand out it seems.

 Humor, one of my favorite things about fashion and style, is an ever present element in her designs. (Fashun is fun, guys...) When there's a certain dose of going against the grain or being somewhat ironic in clothing design, I appreciate it more. Schiaparelli's garments represented a stark contrast to the styles that were made during her time. Chanel, her biggest competitor at the time, is a perfect example. Making absurdities normal is a very difficult thing, she excelled at it.  She believed that a woman shows her individuality by being daring.

Necklace, 1937-1938

Sleeping Perfume, 1938

Blue eyelash glasses, 1951

She mixed the nonfunctional with the functional. Excess with Fetishism. The Decorative and theatrical with the mundane. It's the paradoxical language and nature in her clothing and accessories that make them stand out even decades after their creation.  Coats and tough power-suits were anything but ordinary--with fasteners and buttons rendered in the form of dollar signs, fruits, animals, padlocks, spoons and paper clips. A classical 30s evening gown suddenly evoked a kind of beautiful foolishness with the inclusion of bicycle-riding rabbits for a print. Her collaborations with artists like Jean Cocteau really made her a poet of couture...

x Jean Cocteau, 1937

Hand belt, 1934

 x Dali, 1937

Coat with real and fake pockets in form of drawers, photographed by Cecil Beaton,1936


 Velvet jacket with upsidown hand mirrors appliqued with tinsel and mirrored glass, 1939

Schiaparelli's obscurity is already diminishing and in a way I'm kind of happy. I think her art and the contributions/innovations she has given to the fashion world (the jumpsuit, overalls, culottes, wrap dress, colored fur, halter neckline, wedges to name a few) deserve to be recognized and appreciated. With the announcement of the fashion house's revival it seems like big things are in store for the label's future. And I'm super excited to follow its news and see how Schiaparelli will be brought into the 21st century. I think she'll remain my favorite designer for a long time.
1935 print (Elsa was first, Jeremy Scott)

[new yorker, fashion & surrealism, feminist review # 38 via jstor, met museum, life archives, corbis, philadelphia museum, tumblr, Virginia Warren for The New York Times (3/23/66)]

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