Elsa Schiaparelli

Designing dresses and jewels, by the way, is not a profession, it’s an art”.

Right from the beginning of her career, Elsa Schiaparelli claimed that «designing is one of the most difficult and frustrating arts, because as soon as the dress is born, it already belongs to the past». It is precisely because of this reflection that we are able to enter in full in the universe which Daniel Roseberry, the creative director of the maison, has been able to recreate for the historic brand, by making Elsa’s greatest legacy his own: awareness that imagination is the fundamental ingredient in the most complicated moments, and that it is only by dreaming that we can develop a new concept of fashion and accessory.

The Spring/ Summer 2022 collection shown in Paris last October is the most sublime synthesis of this idea, “a surrealist holiday”: the collection is entitled “Psycho Chic” and is an interpretation of a woman fascinated by the dawn of the technological era, by advances in textiles and engineering, by the avant-garde in film and art. In Roseberry’s vision, the designer was a patron of the arts and an artist herself, but also a kind of scientist who experimented with innovation and celebrated progress of all kinds: creative, social and cultural. Elsa Schiaparelli, with her eccentric and extravagant style, was one of the two leading actors of fashion in the 1930s along with Coco Chanel. Cecil Beaton calls them “Two women sandwiched between two world wars, between Poiret’s harem and Dior’s New Look,” who dominated the field of Haute Couture. In fact, it was Paul Poiret who introduced Schiaparelli to the world of couture. Poiret gave her an evening dress and lent her some models because her beauty, far from the classic aesthetic canons of the time, fully represented his imagination of the feminine. This experience opened the door to the world of couture for Elsa. Even at an early age, her mother never missed a chance to remind her how ugly she was, so Elsa thought of a way to become more beautiful: turning her face into a flower garden. She got seeds from the gardeners, planted them in her throat, in her ears, in her mouth, expecting them to blossom thanks to the warmth of her body… she sat and waited to see the blossoming but nearly choked! Elsa Schiaparelli became Salvador Dali’s muse: together with him she created legendary items such as the lobster print dress, the skeleton dress and above all the Roy Soleil perfume bottle. Her surrealist and artistic spirit led her to imagine a rhodoid necklace encrusted with insects and a handbag with luminous decorations fed by a battery hidden inside.

Her research into the development of new materials led her to develop a revolutionary fabric, called rhodophane, as transparent and fragile as glass, not to mention the profusion of pink, the colour par excellence of the fashion house, which boasts its own shade, shocking, intense and provocative: the Schiaparelli shocking pink. Over the years, Elsa surrounded herself with the best talents – Jean Schlumberger, Jean Clément and Lina Baretti for jewellery, Jean-Michel Frank for decoration and design of perfume bottles, André Pérugia and Roger Vivier for shoes, François Lesage for embroidery, and Marcel Vertès and Raymond Peynet for communication. On 13 August 1934, Time magazine dedicated a cover to her, describing her in these words: “Madder and more original than most of her contemporaries, Mme Schiaparelli is the one to whom the word ‘genius’ is applied most often”. In 1954, she decided to close her haute couture atelier and devote the rest of her life to writing. She published her memoirs, Shocking life, in which, as well as recounting anecdotes and adventures, she wrote down the 12 commandments for women. One among them: “Ninety per cent [of women] are afraid of being conspicuous and of what people will say. So they buy a grey suit. They should dare to be different”. Her archives and rights were acquired in 2006 by the Tod’s group. In 2012, her atelier was reopened at the Hotel de Fontpertuis, 21 place Vendôme, right where Elsa had left it. On 10 May 2012, the exhibition Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, marking the brand’s rebirth and bringing back to the forefront the objects that made Elsa a style icon. In 2014, the first haute couture show and the appointment of stylist Daniel Roseberry as creative director in 2019 brought the brand back to the splendour of its past, creating a new way of interpreting fashion and using accessories, increasingly as a sublimation of art and a way of listening to a dreamlike universe, sometimes bizarre but always extremely elegant and in step with the times. Roseberry’s mastery focuses on the body and on bijoux. «I wanted to honor the potential and power of the art form by returning to the fashion I loved in my youth. Blind nostalgia isn’t healthy: we can’t romanticize the past, especially when, for so many groups of people, the past wasn’t romantic at all. But the gift of fashion is its ability to allow us to pretend, and that is its promise as well; if we dream hard enough, maybe we can will that beautiful past into existence». In his creations, Roseberry focuses on the body and bijoux, a key element of the fashion house’s visual vocabulary. Here, power and softness, machine and man, metal and fabric carry on a dialogue. In the Autumn/Winter 2021 show, a delicate pair of human lungs, seemingly made from a network of capillaries dipped in gold, lights up an austere black crepe dress and makes it breathe differently. While for this collection the bijoux become hand-patinated gold embroidery inspired by Giacometti, the new Spring/ Summer 2022 collection plays on the dualism of the representation of Elsa in the city, where the codes of the maison meet the twists of the classic language of French prêt- à-porter of the ‘70s, and the transposition of Elsa on holiday, with clothes designed, not for a physical destination but for a state of mind. A collection where the imagination can wander without boundaries, in a constant state of being and mind, in a David Lynch surreal landscape. From the observation of these clothes and bijoux there emerges a figure of an extremely modern woman, sartorial but relaxed, private but also a performer. Roseberry fully interprets this duality that has made Elsa Schiaparelli a myth, and makes the woman who wears these masterpieces obstinate in her search for her aesthetic, and for this very reason, inimitable. Once again a strong projection towards dreaming, with the desire to imagine a better world, grasping each piece of beauty with both hands, translating and embodying these dreams in clothes and bijoux that open a new frontier of wearability and dialogue between body and object.

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