While not a new book, this autobiography was originally published in 1954, it has been reproduced, this year, by the V&A Museum with a cover illustration by their Student Illustrator of the Year, 2017.
Elsa Schiaparelli is an illusive pillar of fashion. While we know the name - pronounced skap-ə-REL-ee - we don’t really have many images of her. She’s not a fashion character like her contemporary, Chanel. The image in my head is of a dark haired woman wearing a 1930s-type velvet dress with a sculptural hat, but, other than that, she’s fairly anonymous.
V&A - Shocking Life: The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli - £8.99
Italian by birth, but French in her sartorial spirit, she’s a stylish rolling stone who gathers no moss, moving between countries like a migratory bird. She falls into fashion and runs with it. She talks about herself in the third person and, while not a stickler for dates, you get a rough idea of the time by events like the war and the Queen’s coronation.
The book is a whirlwind trip of her life journey up until 1954 when she closes her couture house. She lives until 1973.
Schiaparelli feels like a free spirit who has the confidence to design what she wants and follows her instinct, but she isn’t hung up on the idea of ‘fashion’. It just comes naturally to her. She was the first to use shoulder pads, animal prints and was the inventor of ‘shocking pink’, hence the name of the book. She collaborated with artists including Jean Cocteau, Alberto Giacometti and Salvador Dalí, producing windows and interesting pieces for her fashion label.
She resonates through fashion today. Her first perfume, Shocking by Schiaparelli, was in a bottle shaped like a female torso. Jean Paul Gaultier? She produced newspaper printed fabrics. John Galliano at Dior? And pioneered the idea of playfulness and unusual motifs. Martin Margiela?
She’s made me want to visit Hammamet in Tunisia, where she retires to, and she’s the kind of character you would watch and take note of whatever she does, wherever she goes or whatever she produces.
Schiaparelli, as a brand, has so many tropes it’s a shame it didn’t have a renaissance like Chanel. It would have made for far more interesting fashion. Can you imagine somebody like Galliano at Schiaparelli? So good.
The name was bought in 2007 by Diego Della Valle, who owns the Tod’s brand, but, it wasn't until September 2013 when Marco Zanini was appointed as the head designer. It hasn’t really made any impact and feels like something somebody should have done 40 years ago. It’s much harder to make any inroads, today, with fashion so saturated, regardless of the history or pedigree.
Schiaparelli isn’t too worried about the details and you get a feeling she knows she’ll always land on her feet. The book is an enjoyable look into French couture and how the Second World War affected it from the shocking pink lips of a woman who pioneered an adventurous and surreal way of dressing. Lobster, anybody?
This is the best type of shopping; an investment and something originally beautiful. You already know I’m obsessed with vintage and the element of discovery and a new auction catalogue from Kerry Taylor Auctions in Bermondsey is like sartorial porn. So, treat yourself to something for Christmas. You deserve it!
Here are TheChicGeek’s picks of the sale and why:
TheChicGeek says, “Nothing is original in fashion, well, not totally. When Jeremy Scott put his wings on his adidas trainers, he could have glimpsed these gorgeous pair of talaria beach sandals. (Talaria are winged sandals, a symbol of the Greek messenger god Hermes -The name is from the Latin tālāria, "of the ankle".) Can you imagine the rest of the swimming costume?"
Lot 62 : A rare pair of Phillips' Silver Wing rubber bathing shoes, English, late 1920s
A rare pair of Phillips' Silver Wing rubber bathing shoes, English, late 1920s. moulded with maker's details to the soles, of black rubber with white painted edgings and silver wings to each side.
Estimate: £800 - £1200
TheChicGeek says, “I’m a little bit obsessed with Schiaparelli, ATM. I’ve been reading her ‘Shocking Life’ autobiography and she seems like a whirlwind of style and creative ideas and very much where we are, right now, in fashion. This is one of those fun things we take for granted today, but just look at the year it was produced”.
Lot 69 : A rare Salvador Dali for Schiaparelli 'Telephone Dial' compact, 1935.
The design of this compact in 1935 marks the first collaboration between Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali. That same year saw the opening of Maison Schiaparelli at 21, Place Vendôme, Paris.
Estimate: £2000 - £3000
TheChicGeek says, “More Schiaparelli. I get the impression any woman who commissioned an outfit from Schiaparelli would be the interesting woman in the room. It’s a shame the name didn’t have the same life as her rival, Chanel, as it would have made for much more creative fashion”.
Lot 70 : A fine and rare Elsa Schiaparelli couture 'Hall of Mirrors' jacket and matching dress, 'Zodiac' collection, Autumn-Winter, 1938-39
Presented in August 1938, it drew on two main themes - astrology and the magnificent Palace of Versailles. The seventeen massive archways of the Galerie des Glaces, each filled with twenty-one mirrors, must have inspired the baroque cartouches on this jacket front. Provenance: Vera Bowler who married John Wesley Worth on 4th May 1935. Her husband was regional Manager for Carreras Ltd., Britain's largest manufacturer of cigarettes.
Estimate: £50000 - £70000
TheChicGeek says, “Move over the Milk Tray man in this James Bond like aprés-ski outfit. You can just imagine George Best or Tom Jones in something like this”.
Lot 107 : A fine and rare Pierre Cardin man's knitted jump suit, 1969-70.
Estimate: £7000 - £10000
TheChicGeek says, “John Galliano seems to be exciting everybody at Maison Margiela, ATM, so it’s nice to see some early stuff from this British master. £1200 in 1990? That would have been a fortune”.
Lot 159 : The John Galliano 'Banana' coat showpiece, Autumn-Winter, 1989-90.
Provenance: Gifted by Mr Galliano to a friend who worked with him. The coccon-shaped 'Poiret' coat in banana-yellow Melton wool with collar formed from tall cartridge pleats (retail price advertised at £1200). Galliano described this coat as a 'punctuation mark for the show’.
Estimate: £2500 - £3500
TheChicGeek says,”It was only a fews years ago that Christopher Raeburn put inflatable rubber coats onto his London catwalk. This is pure Michelin Man and full of those 80s proportions when Issey Miyake was at the height of his influence”.
Lot 172 : A rare Issey Miyake man's inflatable rubber jacket, 1987.
An identical jacket was worn by Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys in 1987 in a performance of 'Rent' on the 'Live from the London Palladium' TV show..
Estimate: £10000 - £15000
See more ChicGeek vintage picks here