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Elsa Schiaparelli: Shocking!

Elsa Schiaparelli: Shocking!
March 4, 2013 Barbara Schwartz

Shocking, the name of the vivid shade of pink that became Elsa Schiaparelli’s trademark color, is a name that has become synonymous with this extraordinary 20th century Italian-born couturière who viewed her profession as an art. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the color Shocking pink “was dubbed thus because it represented her desire to shock those around her with her unique and sometimes avant-garde designs. Her goal was to design clothing and accessories that possessed an artistic aesthetic, rather than the more conventional idea of fashion and beauty.” Shocking was also the name Schiaparelli gave to her perfume. In this ad (on the left) from the French magazine Plaisir de France, the jockey is riding a dressmaker’s dummy with a tape measure around the neck, the design of the Shocking perfume bottle.

Many of Schiaparelli’s artful, imaginative pieces of jewelry can be seen here on the TruFaux Jewels website. Take a look at my Pinterest board with the same title as this article to see clothing (including the Metropolitan Museum’s Shocking pink suit), jewelry, and other  accessories by Schiaparelli.

Her Jewelry

Schiaparelli’s post-World War II pieces reflect her creative use of large, unfoiled glass stones in unusual shapes, such as the kite-shaped stones in this kite-shaped brooch below.

Schiaparelli also frequently used multi-colored stones faceted to form an eight-pointed star design. These multi-colored stones are called tourmalines, and the pink/green combination is known as watermelon. This type of faceting is called dentelle. A lovely example of this type of faceting can be seen in the large citrine stone at the center of this brooch on the right. Click through to see more photos of this piece and its matching earrings.

The type of stone that is synonymous with the Schiaparelli name is her textured, iridescent lava rocks. On the left is a close-up of pale pink lava rocks with Shocking pink stones among the accents is from a bracelet. Click through to see it.

Settings in Schiaparelli jewelry are heavily-plated silver- or gold-tone metal, which is often textured. Her chunky demi- and full-parures with these bold characteristics as well as her more tailored jewelry were prominent in the 1950s.

Schiaparelli’s costume jewelry-making began in 1927. From that year to 1949, much of her jewelry was designed by Jean Clément. (According to Ginger Moro’s European Designer Jewelry, he was responsible for coming up with the shade of pink that became Shocking.) Other jewelry designers included Jean Schlumberger in the 1930s, Roger Jean-Pierre in the 1940s, and Coppola e Toppo in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The Surrealist artists Jean Cocteau and Salvadore Dali also provided some jewelry designs. In 1949, Schiaparelli “licensed an American company to manufacture her jewelry, stamped with the script Schiaparelli oval, or paper-tagged Designed in Paris, Created in America” (Moro, p.85). Pre-war pieces were signed with her name in lower-case block letters.

According to Jane Mulvagh (in Costume Jewelry in Vogue, p. 48), Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel, her legendary rival, have been credited with repudiating “the stigma of fake attached to costume jewelry”. Although both women profoundly influenced the design of clothing and jewelry in the years between the two world wars, their backgrounds could not have been more different. Unlike Chanel’s impoverished childhood, Schiaparelli’s was more privileged.

Her Life

Elsa Luisa Maria Schiaparelli was born on September 10, 1890, in Rome, the daughter of a scholar and the niece of an astronomer. After marrying in 1916, she and her husband moved to the United States and eventually settled in New York City. Her circle of friends included Greenwich Village artists such as Edward Steichen, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp. Elsa separated from her husband in 1920, soon after the birth of her daughter, Gogo.

Elsa and Gogo moved to Paris in 1922. Through a friend, Elsa met the couturier Paul Poiret, who recognized her flair with clothes and encouraged her early work as a freelance designer for small fashion houses. In 1925, she became the designer at Maison Lambal, which remained in operation for only one year. In January 1927, Elsa presented her first collection — hand-knitted sweaters for active women — under her own name in her apartment at 20 rue de l’Université. Later that year, she moved her apartment and salon to 4 rue de la Paix. Her sweater with trompe l’oeil bowknots became a great success and was illustrated in the December 15 issue of Vogue. Eventually, Schiaparelli’s designs expanded from a full line of sportswear to daytime and evening wear. Between 1931 and 1953, her clothes were worn by leading ladies in at least 32 films and 30 stage productions in Europe and America.

From the beginning, Schiaparelli’s designs reflected her early contact with art and astronomy and her later exposure to the avant-garde. Her use of vivid colors and unusual materials in unconventional and unexpected ways was reflected in her clothing and accessories.

Schiaparelli closed her couture salon in 1954 but continued producing perfume and accessories. She sold her name and business in 1973, and died later that year. Schiaparelli’s work lives on in private collections as well as museums.

To See Schiaparelli’s Work

Visit the TruFaux Jewels boutique to see my pieces by Elsa Schiaparelli. You can see many of her fashions and accessories on the websites of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The latter’s collection includes some early jewelry.

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