Discover the “shocking” works of fashion legend Elsa Schiaparelli and the avant-garde artists who inspired her, from Man Ray to Méret Oppenheim

The Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris has just opened »Shocking! The surreal world of Elsa Schiaparelli(until January 22, 2023), devoted to the life and work of the eccentric Italian-born seamstress.

A mentee of Paul Poiret and an inspiration to Man Ray, for whom she has modeled over the years, Schiaparelli presented its first designs in 1927, a collection of sweaters playfully adorned with trompe-l’oeil ties and bows. Over the next three decades, she developed a radical body of work informed by her close ties to the Parisian avant-garde.

Schiaparelli at a masked ball in 1952; the man is wearing a jacket she designed. © Elsa Schiaparelli SAS. © Rights reserved, Paris, Palais Galliera – Fashion Museum. © Paris Museums, Palais Galliera, Dist. RMN – Grand Palais / image of the city of Paris.

The 577 pieces in the exhibition are presented chronologically and thematically on two levels, including 212 of Schiaparelli’s most emblematic creations and collaborations – from a brass bracelet covered in animal fur, based on a design by Swiss artist Méret Oppenheim, to an evening coat and suit jacket embossed with designs by Jean Cocteau, alongside artwork by some of his most famous friends and contemporaries.

There is a special room dedicated to the designer’s work with Salvador Dalí – see their Lobster dress and Hat Shoe—as well as a special cage for its perfumes, including Shocking, its bottle inspired by a woman’s torso (a first) by Argentinian-Italian artist Leonor Fini, and Le Roy Soleil, in Baccarat crystal bottles in limited edition designed by Dalí.

Evening coat from the fall 1937 collection by Elsa Schiaparelli, embossed with a design by Jean Cocteau featuring silk embroidery and flowers by Lesage.  © Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Evening coat from the fall 1937 collection by Elsa Schiaparelli, embossed with a design by Jean Cocteau with silk embroidery and Lesage flowers. © Philadelphia Museum of Art.

As Schiaparelli said in 1954, “Being able to work with artists like Bébé Bérard, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dalí, Vertès and Van Dongen, with photographers like Hoyningen-Huene, Horst, Cecil Beaton and Man Ray were exciting. We felt helped, encouraged, far beyond the dull material reality of making a dress to sell.

“Dull” is the antithesis of a so-called Schiap design; it has always been easy to see. But Schiaparelli’s wider impact – on fashion and on femininity – has been less recognised.

“She escaped the role of muse, to which so many women are reduced, to focus on the essentials: being a client, becoming a creator, never letting go, being true to herself”, explains Olivier Gabet, director of the Museum of Decorative Arts. , in a report.

Photographié par Horst P. Horst pour <i>vogue</i>March 15, 1937.” width=”804″ height=”1024″/></p>
<p id=Photographed by Horst P. Horst for vogueMarch 15, 1937.

Gabet continued, “She was high-spirited, she was unconventionally attractive, the very definition of chic for women everywhere – Diana Vreeland above all – but she was also hardworking, visionary.”

Schiaparelli’s work has inspired countless designers, including Azzedine Alaïa, Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent and Hubert de Givenchy, whom she hired as her first assistant in 1947, when he was 19.

The retrospective features pieces they created in his honor, culminating in a look by Daniel Roseberry, the house’s current creative director, who reinterprets Schiaparelli’s surrealist legacy.

Below, discover a selection of works from the exhibition.

Salvador Dalí, couverture pour <i>Minotaur</i> 1936. Courtesy of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs © Les Arts Décoratifs.” width=”778″ height=”1024″/></p>
<p id=Salvador Dalí, cover for Minotaur (1936). Courtesy of the Museum of Decorative Arts © Les Arts Décoratifs.
A limited edition bottle that Dalí made in Baccarat crystal for Schiaparelli's Le Roy Soleil perfume, 1946. © Schiaparelli Archives.

A limited edition bottle that Dalí made in Baccarat crystal for the perfume Le Roy Soleil by Schiaparelli (1946). © Schiaparelli Archives.

George Platt Lynes, <i>Salvador Dali</i>1939. © Estate of George Platt Lynes.” width=”529″ height=”600″/></p>
<p id=George Platt Lynes, Salvador Dali (1939). © Estate of George Platt Lynes.
Schiaparelli created this silk evening dress with Dalí in 1937. © Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Schiaparelli created this silk evening dress with Dalí in 1937. © Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Marcel Vertès, <i>Schiaparelli, 21 place Vendome</i>1953. © Schiaparelli Archive.” width=”829″ height=”1024″/></p>
<p id=Marcel Vertes, Schiaparelli, 21 place Vendome (1953). © Schiaparelli Archives.
A look from Daniel Roseberry's Schiaparelli Spring/Summer 2022 collection.  ©Maison Schiaparelli.

A look from Daniel Roseberry’s Schiaparelli Spring/Summer 2022 collection. ©Maison Schiaparelli.

A look from Daniel Roseberry's Schiaparelli Fall/Winter 2021-2022 collection.  ©Maison Schiaparelli.

A look from Daniel Roseberry’s Schiaparelli Fall/Winter 2021-22 collection. ©Maison Schiaparelli.

A look from Daniel Roseberry's Schiaparelli Fall/Winter 2021-2022 collection.  ©Maison Schiaparelli.

A look from Daniel Roseberry’s Schiaparelli Fall/Winter 2021-22 collection. ©Maison Schiaparelli.

A facility at "Shocking!  The surreal world of Elsa Schiaparelli," with a scenography by Nathalie Crinière.  © Decorative Arts: Christophe Dellière.

An installation at “Shocking! The surreal world of Elsa Schiaparelli”, with a scenography by Nathalie Crinière. © Decorative Arts: Christophe Dellière.

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Christopher S. Washington