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  • Writer's picturePatrick Cabasset

Exhibition: The Elsa Schiaparelli shock

This must-see exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris will be turning the surrealist worlds of Elsa Schiaparelli inside out as of July with a collection comprising 272 decidedly anti-conventional costumes and accessories, along with no fewer than 520 works, drawings, photos, sculptures, ceramic pieces, etc. staged by Nathalie Crinière with exhibition curator Marie-Sophie Carron de la Carrière.

Silk evening dress. 1937. In collaboration with Salvador Dali.

Elsa Schiaparelli explored and used surrealism in her work from the outset and was also influenced by the Dadaists, Francis Picabia and Tristan Tzara, as well as working with Salvatore Dali, Jean Cocteau and Jean-Michel Franck on the decor for her couture salons, where Giacometti sculptures featured heavily. Schiaparelli would go on to dress many a celebrity, including the Duchess of Windsor, Greta Garbo, Gloria Guiness, Mae West and Milicent Rodgers, and would have fashion enthusiasts the world over fighting over her sometimes extravagant designs between 1927 and 1954. This period of around 25 years, albeit somewhat disrupted by the war of 1939-45, would really shake up the Parisian fashion scene, upsetting rival Gabrielle Chanel, who was highly offended at the time, in the process. ‘Schiap’ would change and indeed guide the aesthetics of her time, but would more importantly shake up the philosophical side of things. In her autobiography Shocking Life, written in the third person, Elsa Schiaparelli wrote this as one of her 12 commandments: “Remember: 20% of women have an inferiority complex. 70% are delusional”... A lesson in freedom we should all be taking on board as a matter of urgency.

Shocking! The surrealist worlds of Elsa Schiaparelli. 6th July 2022 to 22nd January 2023 Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Reading list: ‘Shocking Life, Elsa Schiaparelli', 1954. V&A 2007 edition.

Schiaparelli telephone dial powder compact by Salvator Dali, 1935

Shocking perfume bottle in collaboration with Léonore Fini, 1937

Salvador Dali photographed by George Platt Lynes in 1939.

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