The Surrealist Fashion Designer of Interwar Paris

At the Victoria and Albert Museum in London a huge array of jewelry and fashion pieces are kept, from Queen Victoria’s crown jewels to decidedly more modern pieces. In the V & A collection are many of the most iconic pieces of high end fashion from 1930s designer (and Coco Chanel rival) Elsa Schiaparelli, the surrealist fashion designer of interwar Paris.

At the time, wealthy women from around the world would travel to Paris to have her high-end designs made in their size. Each piece was custom made for the wearer, and any tweaks they requested would be made in this one-of-a-kind design.

While Chanel had brought women into modernity through the concept of an effortless and paired down chic, Schiaparelli took it one step further by corresponding her couturier looks with modern the art movement of surrealism and absurdism. Schiaparelli often collaborated with Salvador Dali and created interpretations that were unheard of at the time and very modern.

Among her creations with Dali was a dress in black that features a 3D effect mimicking the bones of a skeleton and a dress with evening wrap that was meant to simulate torn fabric or skin. Schiaparelli also designed a hat in the shape of an upturned high heel and a hat for day wear that was covered in metallic insects. Schiaparelli also collaborated with artist, Jean Cocteau.

Schiaparelli wasn’t only about creating shocking items of clothing, but she did know how to get attention through her designs and used her “shocking pink” fuchsia on her logo and many of her designs. Her first claim to fame was the trompe l’oeil sweater which featured a bow shape cleverly knitted into the fabric, using a technique that is still not all that common today.

These days her name is much less known than Chanel’s, despite the affect that Schiaparelli had on both art and fashion that is still felt today.

Senior curator of Textiles and Fashion for the V & A Museum, Sonnet Stanfill, has the job of maintaining these precious items designed by Schiaparelli. See some of these fabulous pieces in the video and hear more about them from Stanfill in the video below.

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