A Short History of Luxury: How Schiaparelli’s friendship with Dalí led to iconic collaborations and designs

Born in 1890 in the Italian capital, Elsa Schiaparelli became a legendary, avant-garde fashion designer over the years, famous for her eccentricity and deliberately provocative nature. Her creations also bore the surrealist touch of the artists who inspired Schiaparelli, including the well-known Salvador Dalí. A look back at the history of an emblematic collaboration.


103 years earlier, in 1919, Elsa Schiaparelli arrived in Paris, a year in which she had not yet realized her talent for fashion. However, her interest in art began to manifest itself when she befriended Dadaist artists, who refused to accept conventions and questioned the norms of art, literature and other intellectuals.


Elsa Schiaparelli. © Schiaparelli


However, it was not until 1927 that the Italian designer made her first step into fashion. This last one was largely different from the other designers of the time since she will be known for being one of the first to have integrated art in her creations. Her first collection is embodied by this desire, consisting of sweaters decorated with large bows in “trompe l’oeil”. They will directly become best-sellers and emblematic pieces of the brand, which will propel her on the fashion scene. Vogue did not hesitate to use the word “masterpieces” to name them.


Maison Schiaparelli - L'histoire de la maison
Trompe l’œil sweater. © Schiaparelli


She became an accomplished designer at the head of a successful fashion house, and it was then that she had the ambition, during the 1930s, to innovate and surprise more and more. One of her most important encounters was with the Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, who changed the course of her life and the history of her brand forever.


Salvador Dalí.


The Dalí – Schiaparelli era


From the fruit of the friendship between this artist and this designer will be born many collaborations. Together they created several fashion pieces marked by the casualness and eccentricity that perfectly characterized these two people.


In 1935, their first joint creation, a compact in the shape of a telephone dial, was born. But it will be the Haute-Couture collection winter 1936-1937 of Schiaparelli, presented in August 1936, which will mark their first official collaboration. The surrealist Schiaparelli “Mirror Suit” was born, inspired by the Spanish artist’s painting entitled The Anthropomorphic Cabinet (1936). This first piece features real or trompe l’oeil pockets in the shape of boxes, and the suit’s buttons are made of drawer handles.


The Anthropomorphic Cabinet (1936). © Salvador Dalí


A recurring theme for Dalí and a symbol of his obsession with women, the lobster also inspired the Italian designer and led to the creation of a Lobster Dress in 1937. Another emblematic piece of the work of Schiaparelli and Dalí, it was inspired by the work Lobster Phone of the artist. Legend has it that Dali wanted to add a little mayonnaise to the fabric, a proposal that the designer refused.


Lobster Dress. © MAD


The collection “The Circus” unveiled by the designer in 1938 is an ode to the dialogue she has with surrealist artists and particularly Dalí. From this collection and new collaboration was born the Tears Dress, a white mourning dress with a long veil. It would have been inspired by one of the torn dresses from which seem to hang shreds of fabric that a young woman wears on the painting Three young surrealist women holding in their arms the skins of an orchestra (1936).


Finally, how can we talk about the multiple iconic collaborations between Dalí and Schiaparelli without mentioning the Chapeau Chaussure (1937). Presented on the occasion of the Haute-Couture collection winter 1937-1938, this original and surprising creation is inspired by a photo taken in 1933 by Gala where we can see the famous artist wearing a woman’s shoe.


The Chapeau-Chaussure.


Beyond the clothes, Dalí will continue during long years to collaborate with Elsa Schiaparelli. He imagined for her patterns of fabrics or bottles of perfume, such as the labels for the oils for the body Shocking Radiance or the bottle in crystal Baccarat of its perfume Le Roy Soleil in 1946.


In addition, since July 6, 2022 and until January 22, 2023, a retrospective dedicated to the Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli and her iconic fashion creations has been installed at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (MAD) in Paris. From her history to her creations, nothing has been left to chance for the visitor, where he will be able to sail between the wonderful and casual Schiaparelli creations.


This article is taken from the Spring-Summer issue of Luxus+ Mag.

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Featured photo : © Schiaparelli

Thanks to its extensive knowledge of these sectors, the Luxus + editorial team deciphers for its readers the main economic and technological stakes in fashion, watchmaking, jewelry, gastronomy, perfumes and cosmetics, hotels, and prestigious real estate.


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