Sunday, July 24, 2016

Schiaparelli and Chanel from TDV

Elsa Schiaparelli, in particular, took full advantage of it. An Italian aristocrat and an anti-Fascist autocrat, who had contrived an evening ensemble based on an Ethiopian warrior’s tunic with trousers of imperial purple to honour Haile Selassie, she was by 1935 the “undisputed queen of Paris fashion.”I6 She had won the position, toppling Coco Chanel from her throne, largely by dint of audacity. Reacting against the subdued pastels, beiges and navies formerly thought sophisticated, Schiaparelli produced clothes in Fauvist hues: canary yellow, Mars orange and shocking pink (her trademark). Other schools of artists-Futurists, Dadaists and Surrealists-also contributed to her more avant-garde outfits. Thus she fabricated hats shaped like television sets, vegetable baskets, shoes. She created trompe-l’oez'l skeleton sweaters and fingernail gloves. She sold buttons that looked like lollipops, necklaces apparently threaded with aspirins, a handbag resembling a telephone, a white satin evening gown decorated with a huge Daliesque lobster. No garment-maker better appreciated the publicity value of being different: at the Exposition Schiaparelli caused a sensation by burying a naked plaster mannequin in flowers and stringing up a washing line on which she hung “all the clothes of a smart woman, even to panties, stockings and shoes.” Gendarmes had to hold back the crowds.


However, Schiaparelli owed her own vogue to practicality as well as to eccentricity. She used natural fabrics which moved with the body, as well as cheap synthetics such as rayon. Like Chanel, she appealed to the young with functional sports garb, well-cut suits and neat little black dresses. But Whereas Chanel had made proletarian styles elegant, producing apache sweaters for the beau monde and dungarees a la mode, Schiaparelli, as Jean Cocteau wrote, invented “for all women what was once the privilege of few---to be individual.” She also made them less androgynous, accentuating soft curves and fluid lines at a time when, thanks to diet and exercise, better-off women were more willowy than ever before. She narrowed waists and emphasised busts, moving away from the tubular shape of the 1920s and in 1935 pioneering padded brassieres. She also broadened shoulders, perhaps adumbrating the epaulettes of war, perhaps echoing the Balinese bapangs (projecting collars) seen at France’s Colonial Exhibition of 1931. Certainly Schiaparelli ransacked the globe for inspiration, finding it in Indian turbans, Cossack jackets, Mexican boleros, Tuareg pantaloons, Italian masks. Chic versions of such exotica were displayed at her boutique, the first of its kind, at 21 Place Vendome. There, in what was said to be the most famous window in the world, customers discovered an Aladdin’s cave of sartorial fantasy. It doubtless represented an “escape from reality”‘ at a time of Depression. Maybe, too, it was a protest against the uniform garb and the uniform mentality of totalitarianism. But it also reflected other influences, especially, in 1937, that of the International Exposition. Its glitter provoked an explosion of spangles and sequins. Its extravagance prompted the use of brighter colours, richer fabrics, more exuberant embroideries and more opulent styles-puffed and frilled tulle capes, for example. Schiaparelli called her mid-season collection “Paris, 1937”and won plaudits at home and abroad for her new, tall, svelte evening silhouette.

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