Fashion Birthday: Elsa Schiaparelli

Happy birthday to Elsa Schiaparelli!

Born in Rome on September 10, 1890, Schiaparelli would be
123 years old today. One of the twentieth-century’s most revered fashion
designs, her work is admired for its wit and creativity. Schiaparelli’s
career in fashion began through necessity. Divorced and living in Paris with
her young daughter, Schiaparelli had to find a way to support herself. Via an American friend, Schiaparelli found employment as the
designer for the short-lived Maison Lambal. When this house closed, the emerging designer launched her own line. Schiaparelli’s
first collection in 1927 featured one show-stopper: a black and white sweater
with a trompe l'oeil bow at the neck. Featured in Vogue, the sweater was copied by
mass-market retailers in the United States and Europe. Over a decade after her
first success with trompe l'oeil, Schiaparelli
returned to the technique, using it to embellish this luminous evening jacket.

2010524Evening jacket
Fall/Winter 1939-40
Elsa Schiaparelli
Museum Purchase: Funds provided by Barbara Bundy and Bloomingdale's

Before the outbreak of World War II, Elsa Schiaparelli's last collection introduced her slim "Cigarette Silhouette."1 The collection featured long-line day and evening jackets with long, tight-fitting sleeves and narrow, floor-length skirts. This evening jacket is made of men's necktie silk in Schiaparelli's notorious "Shocking Pink," woven with white, black, and bright green pinstripes; the latter color was dubbed "phosphorescent" by fashion reporters, a reference to the acid green glow of radioactive materials.2 Morning glories—symbolic of death and resurrection, and of anxiety and hope during this time of impending war—were stitched in variegated, blue, red, and gold metallic flosses by the famed embroidery house Lesage. They appear to climb up the pinstripes, an example of the trompe l'oeil wit often found in Schiaparelli's work.

1 "Actresses Model Autumn Fashions" New York Times (September 19, 1939), 11.
2 Pope, Virginia. "Paris Sees 'Family Album' Styles Modernized for Women of Today" New York Times (August 3, 1939), 16


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