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Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli

Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli

by Dilys E. Blum

“A frock from Schiaparelli ranks like a modern canvas.”
—Janet Flanner, New Yorker (1932)

Elsa Schiaparelli (1890–1973) was the premier style arbiter of the 1930s—a favorite designer of women who made the best-dressed list, of female sports heroes, and of film and theater actresses. This comprehensive book accompanies the first major American retrospective of the work of this startling, groundbreaking Paris fashion designer.

Shocking! explores the Italian-born couturière’s career from its Modernist beginnings in the 1920s and its connections with Surrealism to the upheavals caused by war, the business struggles in the years that followed, and the closing of her salon in 1954. Author Dilys E. Blum examines in detail for the first time Schiaparelli’s impact on and relationship with the American fashion industry, which many considered the foundation of her great success. Her appeal stemmed in large part from the newness of her “architectural” silhouettes and the excitement generated by her many innovations. She used the latest materials in unconventional and unexpected ways, choosing “tree-bark” textured rayon for an evening gown, creating fastenings from boot clips, and positioning colorful plastic zippers to be seen rather than concealed. After 1935, Schiaparelli’s collections took on a new identity from themes developed from her own acerbic and quick-witted observations of the world around her. She also drew inspiration from her close relationship with the Paris avant-garde; she posed for Man Ray and collaborated with such artists as Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dalí, Alberto Giacometti, and Meret Oppenheim for designs of clothing, fabric, embroidery, jewelry, and advertising.

Lavishly illustrated with more than 300 reproductions of Schiaparelli clothing and accessories, this book includes the extensive group of objects that the designer presented to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1969, as well as contemporary photographs documenting Schiaparelli’s salons, homes, and designs; patent office drawings; fashion sketches; works by the period’s leading fashion photographers, such as Cecil Beaton and Horst P. Horst; paintings and sculpture that complemented, influenced, and were influenced by her designs; and stills from many of the American, British, and French films and plays with which she was associated. Together the text and illustrations celebrate a masterful designer who defined dressmaking as an art rather than as a profession.

Published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art