“Shock! The surreal worlds of Elsa Schiaparelli” in Paris: the ode to a free, art-loving woman

Two days after its fall-winter 2022-23 show in early July, the Schiaparelli house was inaugurated as part of Paris Haute Couture week Shocking! The surreal worlds of Elsa Schiaparelli at the Museum of Decorative Arts (MAD) in Paris.

The exhibition brings together 520 works, including 272 costumes and fashion accessories, in contrast to paintings, sculptures, perfume bottles, ceramics, posters and photographs signed by the greatest names of the time – Man Ray, Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau, Meret Oppenheim or Elsa triplet . The retrospective sheds light on the heritage of the Schiaparelli style with silhouettes interpreted by famous couturiers who pay homage to it: Yves Saint Laurent, Azzedine Alaïa, John Galliano, Christian Lacroix. Here embroidery patterns, films, illustrations and works of art illustrate the rich exchange that the seamstress was able to establish with her contemporaries.

Raised in a humanistic and scientific environment, Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) devoted herself to fashion and never denied her fascination with art and artists. So much so that many of her artist friends consider her an artist herself: Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, Jean-Michel Frank, Salvador Dalí, Léonor Fini, Meret Oppenheim or Marlene Dietrich, but also her fashion colleagues, later Yves Saint Laurent or Hubert von Givenchy.


In 25 years, Elsa Schiaparelli has made fashion a natural avant-garde breath, embodying the vision of a dazzling and vibrant Paris, curious about everything and enjoying every novelty. she went bankrupt in Paris in 1954 and went into exile in the United States until his death. His house will then rest for 60 years: Today is the American designer Daniel Roseberry, Appointed in 2019, who is responsible for the artistic direction.

The exhibition combines thematic and chronological approaches
on two levels. The introductory room is covered from floor to ceiling with drawings from the seamstress’s collections underline the scope of his work. Rarely do you see so many drawings in one room in an exhibition. Thousands of these were donated by Elsa Schiaparelli to the Union française des Arts du Costume, whose funds are held by the MAD. A modern gesture to preserve the artistic heritage in order to pass it on and continue the story timelessly.


The exhibition continues with the thematic collections initiated by Elsa Schiaparelli solely around the sources of inspiration dear to her heart: Italian antiquity, nature and music.

The Schiaparelli silhouette consists of a garment and accessories including jewels that represent the decorative and harmonious touch of the whole, the work of jeweler artisans. Called Pariere, they work in the shadow of the Seamstress, who surrounds herself with purveyors with strong personalities, able to share their imaginations. It is Jean Schlumberger who interprets his surrealist spirit. The jewels by the artists Alberto Giacometti and Meret Oppenheim also surprise you. In her memoirs, Elsa praises other employees: Jean Clément, “great in its part”, Elsa Triolet, wife of the poet Louis Aragon, for her necklaces in the form of aspirin tablets and the goldsmith François Hugo, great-nephew of Victor Hugo, for his buttons. Many shop windows display these jewels, each one more amazing than the next: buttons in the shape of a mouth, a head, a bagpipe…


The second floor opens onto a reconstruction of Elsa Schiaparelli’s couture salons, then located at 21 Place Vendôme in Paris and inaugurated in 1935. chic and elegant lines.

The exhibition also focuses on the elaborate and luxurious art of embroidery. Elsa Schiaparelli turns to the House of Lesage to create bespoke embroidery, as many fashion houses have done since 1924. We will admire the famous collection The circus dated 1938. From this The collaboration with Maison Lesage has resulted in sumptuous boleros embroidered with horses, acrobats and elephants. Elsa Schiaparelli writes in her memoirs that it is so “the most turbulent, boldest collection”. Today, the House of Lesage continues its collaboration with Schiaparelli for Daniel Roseberry’s contemporary creations.


Among the emblematic collections that stand out is that ofhe winter of 1938/39 shone in the splendor of the signs of the zodiac, the planets and the constellations. The theme is extended to the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV. and their place of power, the Palace and Park of Versailles.

It is interesting to discover that while observing Elsa Schiaparelli’s face, her astronomical uncle compared the birthmarks on her left cheek to the seven stars of the Ursa Major constellation. The designer then made it her personal emblem!


The journey ends with the contemporary silhouettes signed by American designer Daniel Roseberry. appointed in 2019. If the surreal outfits that shocked nearly a century ago, the house’s ideas inspire style icons today. Lady Gaga and Beyoncé wore Schiaparelli to big celebrations, as did model Bella Hadid in a dress at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival long black with a gold lung-shaped necklace adorning the immense neckline.


These outfits are presented alongside pieces designed by the seamstress almost a century ago, such as the hat shoe designed in collaboration with Salvador Dali and the iconic lobster dress worn by the Duchess of Windsor in 1937. “In 1937 it made no sense to decorate an evening dress with a lobster, one of Dali’s fetish animals”, said Olivier Gabet, director of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, who wanted to show “that she is modern and one of the fashion figures that continues to inspire and promote”. In 1935 she used newspapers under her name: “It’s great, it was Warhol before Warhol and John Galliano picked up the same principle 60 years later.” while sewing a newspaper dress for Dior in 2001, he also said.

exposure Shocking! The surreal worlds of Elsa Schiaparelli until January 22, 2023. Museum of Applied Arts. 107 Rivoli Street. 75001Paris. Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m

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