Elsa Schiaparelli: the most famous Italian designer ever

She was never just any woman, Elsa Schiaparelli. Born in Rome in 1890 , she comes from a family of scientists, historians, astronomers. She did not seem destined for fashion, yet she left such a profound mark on Made in Italy that her name was revalued and brought to light recently – in 2010 – by Diego Della Valle.

His daughter and granddaughters, on his death in 1973, were unable to recover the fortunes of the company, but today we can talk about this important name again.

And finding out who Elsa Schiaparelli was and what she did for Italy and for world fashion is really interesting.

The poet who becomes a stylist

As anticipated, Elsa Schiaparelli was born in Rome in 1890 from a family of Neapolitan origins by her mother and Piedmontese by her father, who is a well-known professor of Arabic language and literature at the University of Rome. She is also her uncle and a famous astronomer and her cousin, a senator and an Egyptologist. In short, she is a family dedicated to culture. And Elsa is no exception. In fact, after her studies in Philosophy, while she tries a career as a poet, she meets Count De Vendt Kerlor whom she marries her in 1914. With him she will live first in France and then in New York . Here his daughter Maria Luisa was born but she will also end the love story with a divorce that leaves the young Elsa alone with the child suffering from polio. 

Joined a circle of Dadaist avant-garde intellectuals, she moved with some of them to Paris. Here she meets the designer Paul Poiret and she is fascinated to the point of wanting to learn the trade from him.

In 1927, a few years after the divorce, he is already producing his own collection and working on his own. He doesn’t find a place in the big fashion houses and sets up an atelier in his home.

The winning idea is to recover the old wool sweater – then considered a “home” garment – and transform it into a very trendy garment. This intuition arouses the attention of Strauss warehouses in the United States. The idea of ​​the sweater specifically comes from an American woman who wore this garment that did not appear shapeless, which is made with threads of two colors: a second wool thread of a contrasting color with the first and inserted every four or five points. And here is where the idea takes shape in Elsa’s head. The sweater is hand-sewn by an Armenian woman named Aroosiag Mikaelian called “Mike”, who begins to collaborate with Elsa Schiaparelli to create a garment no longer worn in the countryside by peasants, but also appreciated by the most fashionable boutiques.

Schiaparelli’s ideas are a resounding success: they produce the “double knot” sweater, with a V-neck and double knot on the neck designed in trompe-l’oil.

But his insights certainly don’t end there.

The Schiaparelli fashion house

In 1928 the first shop opens, Schiaparelli Pour Le Sport and its collections are of great interest to Vogue magazine. Among the first works with this signature are tattoo-sweaters, pullovers with reproductions of human bones, jersey swimwear and accessories, in a collection called N ° 1 and dated January 1928, made of knitwear of wool, cotton and yarn of organza. These garments thus combine high fashion and sporty outfits in a mixture of elegance and comfort. His collection includes pullovers, tops, pajamas, swimwear and beach accessories.

The name Schiaparelli is now on everyone’s lips and begins to dress prominent personalities.

During the Thirties his fame crossed the European borders and the unique dresses of Schiaparelli reached as far as New York. Her “themed” collections – the first in the history of fashion – intrigue shoppers.

These are the years in which Elsa dresses the movie stars, the queens, the important women. These were the years in which she made the “shocking pink” color become a very fashionable shade, which will always remain linked to her name Di lei. Another creation much imitated by the competition is the mad cap, knitted and equipped with tips that can be modeled in different shapes.

is Joules from Southern California, USA / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

The company thus opens new boutiques around the world: London, Paris, New York and in the second half of the 1930s the seamstresses become over 400. Also in these years Elsa Schiaparelli opens a shop dedicated to ready-to-wear clothes at place Vendome in Paris.

It is also the first to create collections based on a specific theme, such as:

  • Stop, Look and Listen, summer 1935 collection;
  • Neoclassical, winter collection 1936-37;
  • Butterflies spring 1937 collection;
  • Bottom of the sea, spring 1938;
  • The circus, summer 1938;
  • Pagana, autumn 1938;
  • Cosmic, winter 1938-39;
  • Commedia dell’arte, spring 1939;
  • Tournures, summer 1939;

To present her collections, she is the first to conceive real shows and no longer simple fashion shows: music, color games, make-up are an integral part of the presentation of the models, which attract the public.

Elsa Schiaparelli, between new collections and illustrious friendships

Elsa Schiaparelli thus becomes the stylist of American and international stars: among the most loyal customers we can include Wallis Simpson, Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Lauren Bacall, Gala Dali, Nusch Eluard, Vivien Leigh, Ginger Rogers, Juliette Greco and Mae West.

He also began to work as a costume designer for the cinema, participating in some American productions and began to present his collections also in the Soviet Union.

In the meantime, her creations never cease to amaze: she is the first to introduce synthetic fabrics in evening dresses and tweed.

Many of his creations draw inspiration from his friendships with world-renowned painters and artists, which prove invaluable to Elsa’s work. In fact, she and she known for her acquaintances with Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Cocteau, and many other very famous artists, with whom she never stops collaborating in those so fruitful years. And rumor has it that her idea of ​​hot pink came from Christian Berard’s painting inspiration.

The period of the Second World War and death

At the peak of her success, however, World War II arrives when Elsa Schiaparelli lives far from Paris. In fact, she leaves the French capital occupied by the Nazis to take refuge in the USA. Here she continues her creations of hers, inspired by military themes. During the war she Elsa she serves at the International Red Cross and helps the populations affected by the conflict as best she can.

She returns to Europe in the Second Post-War period and senses the potential of young designers, who will become real stars with her: Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin and Philippe Venet.

In the 1950s, interest in her innovative clothes seemed to drop dramatically and the economic crisis forced her to close in 1954 due to bankruptcy.

In the same year he retired from the fashion world and died twenty years later, on November 13, 1973 at the age of 83.

The Schiaparelli brand today

In 2010, thanks to the interest of the entrepreneur Diego Della Valle, the Schiaparelli fashion house returned to the limelight. Della Valle has in fact restored the ateliers, has invested in new fashion shows and collections, restarted in 2014.

Elsa’s dream has thus come back to life. Beyond the name, however, Elsa Schiaparelli has never really left fashion. Her revolutionary ideas have influenced today’s ways of making fashion shows, of combining colors and enhancing less “noble” garments.

Elsa Schiaparelli will forever remain the icon of a creative, revolutionary fashion with a strong innovative spirit.