Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Viva la Schiaparelli: Fall 2014 Couture and What Came Before

Schiaparelli Fall 2014 Couture looks

The house of Elsa Schiaparelli made an at-long-last return for Fall 2013 Haute Couture Week, with fellow eccentric Christian Lacroix paying homage to the designer with an 18-outfit tribute, before he returned right back to his work in the theater. But it was the next season that marked a true milestone: Marco Zanini, formerly of Rochas, was appointed to officially resurrect the house and the results were hugely successful.

 Schiaparelli Fall 2014 Couture looks

Zanini understands Schiaparelli, from her passion for color to to her contradictory nature to her ever-present sense of humor. "She was a delicate paradox," he observed, "the epitome of elegance with a certain taste that wasn't very elegant. She was the first to mix high and low."

 Schiaparelli Fall 2014 Couture looks

It's his second couture collection, for Fall 2014, that firmly cements Zanini's place in Schiaparelli's tight-knit world. He embraced the surreal, via bleeding, arrow-shot hearts of Lesage embroidery; he gave a wink and a grin, with an ornate take on the classic paper party hat; he revised the notion of the animal print, replacing usual leopard spots (as seen in the first look) and zebra stripes with "Central Park" squirrels and rats (set in playful purple on an otherwise sophisticated evening gown) and flapping pigeons (some with sequin-accented eyes). Most vitally, Zanini was unafraid to go all-out and unapologetically so. The attitude gave way to a sense of "I don't care what you think" exuberance rarely seen these days.

  Schiaparelli Fall 2014 Couture looks

Eighty years prior, Time magazine featured Elsa Schiaparelli on their 1934 cover and wrote of her: "Madder and more original than most of her contemporaries, Mme Schiaparelli is the one to whom the word genius is applied most often." Born in 1890, by the age of 14, she had written a book of poems entitled Arethusa that scandalized her family (and got her sent to convent school). This merely marked the first of the many moments in which she would elicit shock, awe, and surprise from her audiences and onlookers, from introducing zippers to high fashion to inventing sheer, brightly colored stockings.

 Portrait of Elsa Schiaparelli (left); Schiaparelli posing next to a Vespa (right)

The Rivalry: It's no secret that Coco Chanel and Schiap (as she was known to friends) were bona fide rivals, as they both sought to be Paris' number-one designer. Chanel called her "that Italian artist who makes clothes," while Schiaparelli simply called her "that milliner." While many credited her as being bolder and far more innovative than Chanel, Schiaparelli was far less successful in the post-World War II years, with her house going bankrupt and closing its doors in 1954.

 Schiaparelli in 1931 (left); one of her elaborate evening gown designs (right)

The Surrealists: Schiaparelli is one of the few designers credited with inducting Surrealism into the realm of fashion. Influenced by artists like Man Ray and Jean Cocteau, her first foray was with her tromp l'oeil sweaters in 1927, including the "Faux Bow" sweater, which kicked off her revolution. In 1935, she unleashed chintz beach hats that resembled folded newspapers (inspired by the old women in the Copenhagen fish markets who wore actual newspapers on their heads).

The "Faux Bow" sweater (left); the "Lobster Dress" (right)

The following year, she synced up with Salvador Dalí and designed a "chest-of-drawers" suit, inspired by his painting Anthropomorphic Cabinet; they also collaborated on the "Lobster Dress" and the "Skull Dress," which was evocative of the dark time leading up to World War II. Other notable creations: a bracelet that resembled a goldfish, down to the coiled tail; a suit with lip-shaped pockets; a hat made to look like curled-up, upside-down shoe.

The "Skull Dress" (left); the "Shoe Hat" (right) 

Model Guinevere Van Seenus wearing Schiaparelli's shocking-pink dress (Fall 1937) in Vogue magazine, May 2012

Shocking Pink: April 1937 was the moment Schiaparelli truly shocked, at least in the literal sense of the word. Her shocking pink hue, for which she is still famed (just look to the NARS lipstick and nail polish colors, naturally named Schiap), and Shocking perfume were both introduced. The bottle was fashioned in the sensuous shape of an hourglass, based on the dressmaker's dummy she used when creating the costumes for Mae West in the film Every Day's a Holiday. (She would go on to create Sleeping blue and Stunning red.)

 Illustration of a Schiaparelli design, cover of Vogue, 1934 (left); advertisement for Shocking de Schiaparelli scent, 1953

Just keep in mind, it was Schiaparelli who said, "The moment people stop copying you, you have ceased to be news." Needless to say, Elsa Schiaparelli continues to be news. 

NARS Schiaparelli-inspired colors, out of their Iconic Collection

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