Flamboyant, eccentric, outrageous, Elsa Schiaparelli commands some of the most colourful adjectives to describe both her work and her personality. In her day she shocked and delighted in equal measure. Today, Schiaparelli is a design icon. Born in Rome in 1890, and rebellious from an early age, her marriage to Franco-Swiss theosophist William de Wendt did not last, leaving her a single mother to their daughter, Gogo. Determined to succeed independently, and with a passion for the arts and fashion, she moved to Paris in the 1920’s, where top designer Paul Poiret introduced her to the world of couture. She opened her first couture house in 1927, and played a significant role in the development of the fashion industry for several decades, becoming the archrival of Coco Chanel.
During this time she became friends with Surrealist Salvador Dali, and incorporated the philosophies of Dadaism and Surrealism into her work. The concept she developed centered on the Surrealist idea of splashing the ‘black cocktail dress’ with vivid and outrageous colour. Her jewellery often used bright, exotic stones, and ‘shocking pink’ became her signature colour.
Like Chanel, Schiaparelli extended her business into manufacturing fashion jewellery and accessories, which she successfully continued in the US after leaving France in 1940. Although she returned to France after the war, she was never able to re-establish her pre-war fame and prominence, and was forced by the mid-1950’s to discontinue her enterprises and limit her business to licensing agreements for the use of her name on accessories for several more years. She died in Paris in 1973.
Photo: Schiaparelli Bracelet
Costume Jewellery by Judith Miller