getting to know elsa schiaparelli
in honor of international women’s day—march 8!—we’re shining the spotlight on a few wildly creative, fiercely independent and unabashedly feminine women we love, all week long. first up: the inimitable elsa schiaparelli
who: italian fashion designer, surrealist collaborator, provocateur, champion of shocking pink. born in rome in 1890, she called her given name, elsa, her “first disappointment,” and dubbed herself the snazzier “schiap” instead.
what: a famously feisty and liberated lady, schiaparelli rebelled in her ultra-conservative convent boarding school, rejected a wealthy, parents-approved suitor she had no feelings for and started her own business in 1927 (urged on by none other than “king of fashion” paul poiret). the people she surrounded herself were equally forward-thinking: she collaborated with artists from jean cocteau to alberto giacometti, and her iconic lobster dress of 1937—adorned with a crustacean painted by salvador dali—was famously worn by wallis simpson. (other famous fans include greta garbo, katherine hepburn, and mae west—how’s that for a client roster?) though her name may not be as well known today as that of her rival, coco chanel, in 2012 her utterly unique fashion legacy was honored by the metropolitan museum of art’s costume institute with the exhibition ‘schiaparelli and prada: impossible conversations.’
when: her fashion house came to fame in the 1930s and ‘40s. in 1954, shocking life, her autobiography as shown above, was published. a charmingly idiosyncratic memoir (the book switches back and forth often between the first and third person) of her life and work, the book closes with “the twelve commandments for women”—equal parts fashion and life advice for those who hope to be as original as schiap herself.
in her words: “ninety percent 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.”