Elsa Schiaparelli Famous Icon in Shocking Pink Born in a Palace

by TessaSchlesinger

Elsa Schiaparelli was a friend of Chanel and was one of the most famous designers of her day. She was born in a palace and died a queen of fashion.

Elsa Schisaparelli only had one serious rival and that was Coco Chanel and she was enough of rival for Chanel to take her seriously. Schiaparelli was known as ‘Schiap’ to her friends, and while Chanel gloried in establishing elegance and comfort for women, Schiap created clothing to attract attention to the wearer. She was the designer that brought shocking pink to fashion followers between WWI and WWII. And, yes, she was, indeed, born in a palace!

Elsa Schiaparelli: The Early Years

Early Years of Elsa Schiaparelli


Elsa Schiaparelli’s background included being born in a palace and having a father who was a dean at the University of Rome. Another illustrious relative included Giovanni Schiaparelli who discovered the canals on Mars. Not surprisingly, she attended University and studied philosophy, an unusual choice in the early part of the 20th Century. She married a Count while working in London and the happy couple moved to New York in 1921. The marriage did not last long, and Schiaparelli was left with a baby daughter, and a need to provide for herself and her child.

A Struggling Boutique
She found a position working for a struggling boutique owner in New York, and later when the boutique owner relocated to Paris, Schiaparelli followed. It was here that her lifelong passion for fashion paved her way to greatness. A black jersey dress with a Tromp L’oeil white bow drew the attention of a department store buyer, and her design was snapped up and the stage was set. It was 1928, and she was soon famous for her black dresses with a printed white bowtie.

Salvidore Dali and the In Crowd
Socially, she was moving in circles populated with surrealist artists like Salvador Dali. Their ideas translated themselves into her clothing designs. She and Dali co-designed a white dress with a red lobster pattern that became known as the “Lobster Dress”. Mrs Simpson, the consort of Edward of England who gave up his thrown for her, wore the dress. Schiaparelli also co-designed a jacket with artist Jean Cocteau. The jacket caused a stir at the time, as it had an embroidered hand caressing the waist of the wearer. Schiaparelli intended that her clothing to be humorous, shocking, artistic, and decorative. She succeeded.

Shoulder Pads and Shocking Pink
Elsa Schiaparelli was noted for some firsts. She was the first to use shoulder pads. She was the first to call a very dark pink “shocking pink”. She was the first to dye zips the same color as the clothing. And she was the first to slit a skirt down the middle to create ‘shorts’. Her nimble, creative mind, touched many different items of fashion, including hats, perfumes and necklaces, Her perfume bottle was designed in the shape of film star Mae West and was called Shocking.

Elsa Shiaparelii Designer to Royalty

Elsa Schiaparelli Paris

Ms Schiaparelli established various boutiques at various times and in various places. Her first was in Paris in 1927 and was named Pour le Sport. Her second shop was in London in 1934 and was called Storm. In 1935 she purchased a fashion house (Place Vendome 21) in Paris and employed Hubert de Givenchy as a junior designer. In 1941, with the war raging around her, she closed the studio and moved back to New York. After the war she briefly returned to Paris, but she was unable to keep up with new designers, like Christian Dior. She made her way back to New York, opened her last boutique in 1949 and closed it in 1954 as it did not make a profit. Schiaparelli retired.

Out of This World
Her most famous collections include her “Music” collection, “Circus” collection, and her “Zodiac” collection. This last collection comprised enormous suns, a sun god with a chariot, and capes embroidered with gold. Her last collect was aptly named “Commedia dell Arte” (Comedy of Arts) and comprised carnival masks, patterns of Harlequin clowns, and three corner hats.

Born in a Palace and Died a Queen of Fashion
Schiaparelli wrote her biography in 1964, retired to Paris and Tunisia and died on 14 November 1973 in Paris. Her legacy remains as one of the great fashion designers of the 20th Century.

Updated: 12/18/2012, TessaSchlesinger
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Rose on 01/15/2014

I didn't know Schiaparelli invented shorts! From your article it's clear she contributed much more to modern fashion than Chanel - but she's been forgotten.

TessaSchlesinger on 12/28/2012

Mira, I think one has to be smarter about where one invests one's energy these days.

Mira on 12/28/2012

There's so much to learn nowadays, I'm staggered. Think of times when 20 books was the library of a cultivated person. I read about that in a book these days, and from what I've gathered reading about the past, it seems about right. OK, maybe it was 40, or even 100, but what's that compared to the information we have to deal with nowadays?

TessaSchlesinger on 12/18/2012

Fascinating, isn't it? When my daughter was studying in England, her homework was to research some of these people. That's where I learnt about them!

Mira on 12/18/2012

Very interesting! I knew about her and saw some of her designs in museums, but there was so much I learned from your article!

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