Elsa Schiaparelli, “Schiap” to friends (born in Rome on September 10, 1890), was an innovative woman and fashion designer and had a lot of “firsts” in the fashion industry. Her first collection in 1927, in fact, consisted of sweaters adorned with surrealist trompe l’oeil images – a theme that was to become Schiaparelli’s trademark (featured in American Vogue).
She is noted for introducing many styles and techniques into the fashion history. She was the first to use brightly colored zippers, appearing on her sportswear in 1930. In 1933 she introduced the Pagoda sleeve (a broad-shouldered sleeve), and in 1935 visible zippers on her evening dresses (her “The Evening Suit” became a standard among fashionably dressed women). She was also the first to adorn clothes with detailed, brooch-like buttons. Schiap was also known for experimenting with new materials, including rayon, vinyl and cellophane. In 1932 she introduced a new and exquisite synthetic “peau d’ange” jersey, called Jersarelli, and she was the first to employ the initial cellulose acetate, Setilose, in 1934.
Schiap became well-known for her collaborations with artists such as Salvador Dalí, and the outrageous, original designs they created together, simply known as “Shoe Hat” and “Lobster Dress” (created in the spring of 1937, this white organdy gown caused a sensation when it appeared in American Vogue, modeled by Wallis Simpson).
She also started to create new collections every year. In fact, she believed that the prêt-à-porter and large-scale production were the future of fashion. Each collection had a theme and a specific inspiration. This is how her greater contribution to the modern fashion industry was born: the fashion show, a presentation of new collections with art and music, and tall, thin models (Elsa actually believed that the androgynous figures were more suitable for clothing).
Startling colors became a hallmark of Schiaparelli that created the color “shocking pink” (bright shade of fuchsia) by adding magenta to pink. The color ‘pink’ dominated the whole collection of 1936 and nowadays is associated with women’s clothing and lingerie brands like Victoria’s Secret. Elsa Schiaparelli died in 1973, but her revolutionary approach continues to influence the fashion world of today… and Carrie Bradshaw’s iconic Sex and the City outfits!
Barbara Zorzoli is a Columnist for the Italian Journal.