Elsa Schiaparelli: The Provocative Fashion Designer Who Continues To Inspire

Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) is not only one of the fashion world’s most influential designers but one of the most prominent women to impact culture as a whole. For being a provocateur, an innovator and a feminist, Elsa Schiparelli’s outrageous approach to fashion design garnered international fame during the 1920s and ‘30s. Her work is also a formidable inspiration for our own coats and jackets at Charlotte Zimbehl. We have admired it since our interest in fashion first begun.

In the 1910s, Elsa Schiaparelli left her Italian home at the age of 22 and began a new life in three of the world’s trendiest cities – London, New York and ultimately Paris – during which time she flirted with a number of careers before becoming fascinated by fashion. Designers like Paul Poiret were already beginning to change women’s clothing by moving away from corsetry and favouring looser garments. However, at the age of 37, Schiaparelli would take this fashion revolution to an extreme.

Elsa Schiaparelli’s career was launched in 1927 with her trompe l’oeil sweater design featuring a bow around the neckline. Vogue called it a masterpiece and her own line was established later that year. The design was audacious, brazen and totally unique – characteristics Elsa Schiparelli would strive to recreate throughout her career. She was influenced by the surrealist movement and, in fact, collaborated with many of the most famous surrealists of the ‘30s and ‘40s including Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau. Their inspiration is not exactly unnoticeable. Amongst Elsa Schiparelli’s most remarkable designs were necklaces studded with metal insects, the famous Tears Dress designed to look like torn animal flesh worn inside out, and a shoe that could be worn as a hat.

Whilst her rival Coco Chanel was famous for luxury and elegance, Elsa Schiparelli had a provocative sense of humour. It provided her with a notoriety on which she thrived. Her shock factor was part of her brand – a form of marketing notably mimicked by many contemporary celebrities and pop stars today. Her most controversial design was showcased in 1931 by tennis pro Lili De Alvarez who wore a divided skirt designed by Elsa Schiparelli at Wimbledon to substantial furore.

Elsa Schiparelli’s work dared women to be bold and independent, it allowed her to challenge the preconceived ideas about the fashion industry, and it made Schiparelli a trailblazing artist whose impact on culture resonates just as vigorously in the 21st century as it did during the height of her fame.

Photo credits:

Shoe hat

Tear dress

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