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Fashion History

  • Maison Schiaparelli spring 2020 jewelry

    The Jewels of Maison Schiaparelli: Yesterday & Today

    As a long-time fan of Schiaparelli jewelry, I was delighted to see photos of the Maison’s haute couture show for spring 2020. And as one who first chooses the jewelry to wear when putting together an outfit, I was smitten when I read about artistic director Daniel Roseberry’s approach to his latest collection. In last month’s New York Times Style Magazine interview, he said:  “This season I found myself designing entire looks around a piece of jewelry, and it’s become a whole language of the collection”.

    Inspiration from the Past

    Roseberry’s muse was the avant-garde couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, who founded the Fashion House in her own apartment in 1927, before establishing a salon and atelier on rue de la Paix the following year.

    The brass earring with a digitally-printed enamel eyeball, shown in the photo above, was inspired by this brooch designed for her by Surrealist artist Jean Cocteau in 1937.

    This eye motif appears in several other Roseberry designs: rhinestone chandelier earrings, brass buttons, brass earrings with pearl and rhinestone accents, the clasp on a bag, and eye-glass frames. You can see a video of the models walking the runway with these jewels and the fashions they adorn on the Maison Schiaparelli website.

    Costume Jewelry for Haute Couture

    Roseberry’s jewelry continues Schiaparelli’s preference for costume pieces instead of fine jewels. She and her arch-rival Coco Chanel shared the belief that accessories were an integral part of their collections. Both promoted the acceptance of costume jewelry by their clientele. Their influence reached across the Atlantic and helped fuel the growth of that industry in the U.S.

    The artistic director’s adoption of “Schiap’s” jewelry philosophy seems to have evolved, based on his comments to Alice Cavanagh in the following interview:

    ‘“At first, I didn’t understand what the value of costume jewelry was, because these women can obviously afford the real thing,” Roseberry admitted in the atelier, referring to the House’s haute couture clientele.

    “I also didn’t like the idea of making costume jewelry that looked like it wanted to be real,” he added, delicately holding up a pair of one-of-a-kind, shoulder-skimming chandelier earrings crafted from an assortment of trinkets, including another Schiaparelli totem, the brass padlock.

    “But then I realized it could be a way to advance the message of the collection: we’re treating these accessories in surrealist, show-worthy ways.”’

    Maison Schiaparelli & Surrealism

    Roseberry’s reference to Surrealism relates to the avant-garde artistic movement’s profound influence on Elsa Schiaparelli, who viewed fashion design as an art. Her silhouettes, materials, vivid colors and embellishments were innovative, unexpected, and attention-getting. Clientele included the Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford.

    According to fashion historian Caroline Evans, “Her work was galvanized by the themes of masquerade, artifice, and play – themes that related closely to the changing status of women in the interwar years, as well as to the avant-garde discourse of the surrealist artists and their circles, some of whom she worked with in the 1930s”.

    1935 hair combs by Elsa SchiaparelliIn addition to Cocteau, Schiaparelli collaborated with Meret Oppenheim, Salvadore Dalí and Alberto Giacometti, among others, on jewelry and couture design. Much of her work from this period is museum-worthy, which is why the early pieces are not available (or affordable) to the general public.

    Fortunately, we can see examples in various museums around the world. This 1935 pair of tortoiseshell hair combs with gilt-metal ‘antlers’ is among the Schiaparelli designs currently on display at the Victoria and Albert in London.

    Later Years

    World War II brought an end to much of the work of Parisian Fashion Houses. Schiaparelli’s avant-garde style was incompatible with the New Look introduced by Christian Dior in 1947. In 1949, she opened a New York-based company – Schiaparelli Jewels – and licensed her name for the mass production of costume jewelry and accessories in the U.S. The French designs were executed by D. Lisner & Co. in New York (the authorized importer and distributor of her jewelry since 1938) as well as by several jewelry makers in Philadelphia.

    Citrine, pearl & antiqued-gold brooch & ear clipsThough in-line with feminine 1950s tastes, the jewelry in this decade is still innovative. Distinctive glass stones (lava rocks and dentelle faceting, for example), unusual color combinations, and bold designs characterize these jewels.

    Here is one example that is as stylish today as it was then. This brooch and ear clips set features a large citrine-glass stone surrounded by tiny pearls, in an elaborate, antiqued, gold-plated setting. The faceting of each citrine – known as dentelle – forms an eight-pointed star.

    Schiaparelli closed her Maison in 1954 and sold her perfume and accessory business in 1973.

    Relaunch of a Legend

    In 2006, Diego Della Valle acquired the archives and rights to the brand. He had to wait until 2012 for 21 place Vendôme, the home of the Maison since 1935, to became available. Marco Zanini, the first creative director, was succeeded by Bertrand Guyon.

    Daniel Roseberry became Artistic Director in April 2019. In a press statement announcing his appointment, he connected his own artistic vision with the House’s founder: “One of her greatest legacies may be her commitment to fantasy, her understanding that we need fantasy in complicated times. I want to offer my own answers to these questions, and offer a fantasy – a dream – that feels relevant, and necessary, for today”. Clearly, Maison Schiaparelli will go forward with the same vision as its founder, who undoubtedly would consider him a kindred spirit.

    For More Schiaparelli Jewels from Yesterday

    Visit the TruFaux Jewels boutique.

  • Lucile fashion designer -- photo in 1916 Good Housekeeping

    Lucile: A ‘Downton Abbey’ Era Couturier

    Compared to fashion innovators like Coco Chanel and Paul Poiret, whose names are still well-known today, Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon), a leading couturier in the Edwardian era, has nearly been forgotten. Thanks to a current exhibition at the Guelph Civic Museum near Toronto, fashion-history lovers can find out about her…

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  • 1920s flapper fashion in 1925 ‘Vogue’ ad

    ‘Downton Abbey’ Style Finale

    As North Americans eagerly await tonight’s broadcast of the first episode of Season 6 of Downton Abbey, many do so with some regret – this season will be the last. Viewers are anticipating the answers to last season’s cliff-hangers. For example, will Lady Mary marry again? Will Anna and Bates…

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  • Hollywood Glamour

    As a life-long lover of old black-and-white movies, especially those from the 1930s and 1940s (Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age), I enjoy seeing many of them over and over again. The first time, I’m obviously paying attention to the plot. But in subsequent viewings, I can focus on the jewelry and…

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  • Downton Abbey 1920s fashion in Bonwit Teller ad

    ‘Downton Abbey’ Style Encore

    While North American fans eagerly await tonight’s premiere of Season 5 of Downton Abbey, those who haven’t found out the forthcoming plot lines from their UK friends are wondering about the answers to last season’s cliff-hangers. For example, which suitor, if any, will Lady Mary choose to marry? What happened…

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  • Ad for early 1920s women's fashions

    ‘Downton Abbey’ Style

    Canadians and Americans are eagerly awaiting the broadcast of Season 4 of the acclaimed series Downton Abbey, which begins on Sunday night on PBS.  I am sure that viewers have been anxious to find out what will happen next in the life of their favorite upstairs or downstairs character.  For…

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  • The 1920s Roar Again with ‘The Great Gatsby’

    With jewels by Tiffany (based on designs from the company’s archives) and evening gowns by Miuccia Prada in collaboration with Catherine Martine (long-time costume and production designer, and wife of the director), Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby promises lots of eye-candy for lovers of the Art Deco style, which was…

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