Elsa Schiaparelli was one of Coco Chanel's biggest rivals. In the Paris scene of the 1930s, the Italian born Schiaparelli personified cultivated chic and was a style leader among the fashion icons of the era. Many of her designs were drawn from the creative influences of the Paris art scene and she collaborated with Salvador Dali and sculptor, Alberto Giacometti.
Alas, unlike Coco Chanel and others, Schiaparelli fashion failed to be pulled along by the ebb and flow of the fashion world and remained too steadfastly tied to the fashion flavours of the past. Rising stars like Christian Dior had a finger on the contemporary pulse and were coming up with fresh looks Schiaparelli failed to match. Highly individual, Elsa Schiaprella's strong-willed personality somehow resisted the forces of change that were beyond her control. The business languished after World War II and eventually folded in the early 1950s.
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Born in 1890 in the beautiful Palazzo Corsini in Rome, Elsa Schiaperelli's mother was a Neapolitan aristocrat and her father Dean of the University of Rome and a highly distinguished scholar of medieval manuscripts.
Elsa herself studied philosophy at University and during this time her natural propensity to be shockingbecame evident - she published a book of sensual poems that so shocked her family she was packed off to a convent until she staged a hunger strike and was allowed to escape to London to work as a nanny.
Not that she needed employment, as wherever she went, her wealthy family kept her in considerable comfort. Elsa found such gratuitous privilege stifling to her creativity, so she avowed to make her own way, travelling first to New York and then to Paris, where she became a couturier.
As a pre-war designer, Schiaparelli was extremely innovative and has been hugely influential on the fashion world, combining the artistic influences of the era with fashion design to produce highly creative pieces- her first line of knitwear featured surrealist motifs and among other innovations, she was the first to use coloured zippers, culottes ( divided skirts that looked like long shorts), wedge shoes, animal fur belts, ornate, quirky buttons that looked like brooches and interesting themes on her patterns and emblems, such as body parts, food and hand prints.
It was Schiaparelli who came up with the concept of the 'boyish figure' believing it was the best of all shapes on which to advantageously display her clothes and she created the theatrical runway concept that utilised art, music and tall, elongated models.
Shocking de Schiaparelli
Elsa Schiaparelli's signature fragrance, Shocking is one of the most divine perfumes in the world, however i do confess to a personal bias here, as it was my mother's favourite and mine too, when I could get my hands on it. In Australia it was very hard to get and had to be especially ordered from Paris. Shocking was released in 1937 and the fragrance was created by renown French perfumer Jean Carles.
Shocking's hot pink packaging was designed by surrealist painter, Leonor Fini and the distinctive bottle is styled in the form of a woman's torso. The vibrant colour of the Shocking box was inspired by a pink diamond, the Tête de Belier owned by a Schiaparelli client - society beauty, Daisy Fellowes. As Schiaparelli said in her own words:
I gave to a pink...the nerve of a red
Shocking was designed to reflect the designers own personality and it became the title of her autobiography, written in 1954..Shocking Life,
Changes to the Formula?
According to Fragrance Review, the formula for Shocking was redesigned by Martin Gras of Gragococo in the late 90s and is not the same as the vintage fragrance, which is heartbreaking news for Shocking fans. So if you can get your hands on a pre '97 bottle grab it. Why Gras wanted to meddle with the formula, I cannot say.