Throughout history, there have been many fashion icons who have changed the popular style of their time and created echoes throughout the world of fashion and beauty. There are some that you may have heard of and even wish to emulate, but some are far less well known with just as much to offer.
One of our favourite fashion gurus from history is Elsa Schiaparelli. If you haven’t heard of this incredible powerhouse, a contemporary and rival of Coco Chanel, then read on. You are sure to discover a new style hero!
Born in 1890 in the beautiful city of Rome, Elsa Schiaparelli has no rags to riches story. She was, in fact, born to an aristocratic mother and scholar father. As a young woman, she studied philosophy at the University of Rome and even released a book of poetry entitled Arethusa, but the content of these poems so shocked her conservative parents that she was forced into a convent. However, Schiaparelli soon left and returned home, setting her sights on loftier goals than the life of a poet. She first worked briefly as a nanny in London before fleeing to begin her life as a creator of incredible fashion.
A new life
An independent spirit, Schiaparelli was determined not to go back to the cloistered and comfortable life her parents offered her in Rome. Nor did she wish to marry the undesirable suitors who pursued her and become an ordinary housewife. After spending time in New York as a translator, Schiaparelli settled in Paris and opened her couture house in the late 1920s, becoming a world leader in fashion by the mid-1930s – eclipsing even Coco Chanel in becoming the talk of Paris. While Chanel’s chic and minimalist restraint may be associated with classic Parisian beauty, Schiaparelli’s eccentric styling was bright, colourful, and created a real stir! It is perhaps not surprising that Chanel was notoriously jealous of the irrepressible Italian.
Schiaparelli was deeply influenced by her contemporaries and collaborators, such as Salvidor Dali and Jean Cocteau. The surrealist impact on her work can be seen in her surviving pieces. While she worked within the bounds of what was considered traditional, she also sought to challenge expectations and notions of what one “should” dress like.
Schiaparelli played with small details and imagery, creating pieces with unusual materials. For example, she designed a classic black jumper with a white bow for a subtle play on standard styles. When working with Cocteau, Schiaparelli became even more playful. Schiaparelli was not just creating wearable fashion, she was making a statement and creating new beauty trends.
The birth of shocking pink
During the second world war, Schiap (as she was known) moved temporarily to New York, and she branched out into swimsuits, beauty products, perfume and more. She also rubbed elbows with many stars of the day, such as Mae West and Zsa Zsa Gabor, who inspired some of her sensational creations.
Perhaps Schiaparelli’s most notable contribution to our modern fashion was the creation of a new colour, loved by millennials today – shocking pink. Her signature colour was truly a standout from the retiring hues of the day and chimed with her aesthetic and attitude. Gabor was dressed in this startling shade in Moulin Rouge in 1952, bringing the colour to the attention of the mainstream, where it has surely remained!
While beauty trends have changed since Elsa Schiaparelli’s death in 1973, many of the creations deemed shocking at the time are now seen as playful but common. A handbag or purse in the shape of a telephone, for example, was a highly strange sight in the 1930s, but nowadays, a plain handbag might seem rather boring! While Chanel created the classics we know and love today, the ladies who prefer unusual fashion owe much to Schiaparelli’s daring adventures in style. Creative style icons such as Lady Gaga and wild fashion events like the Met Gala take much inspiration from the surrealist fashions that Schiaparelli created and championed.
Can you see echoes of Elsa Schiaparelli’s influence in the latest trends, or even in your own style?
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