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Shocking! The surreal worlds of Elsa Schiaparelli (Shocking! Les Mondes Surréalistes d’Elsa Schiaparelli)

Start Date 06 July 2022
End Date 22 January 2023
Venue Musée des Arts Décoratifs
Location Paris, France
Curator Olivier Gabet and Marie-Sophie Carron de la Carrière
Designer Nathalie Crinière
Exhibition with mannequins on a plinths - central one of which is displaying grey suit with gold trim
Exhibition display of fashion illustrations on wall and floor and a screen showing black and white image of Elsa Schiapparelli and a man on a panel

The Museum of Decorative Arts honours the audacious and inspiring work of Elsa Schiaparelli, Italian designer, whose inspiration was nourished by a privileged relationship with artists from the Parisian avant-garde milieu of the 1920s and 1930s. Almost 20 years after the retrospective dedicated to her in 2004, the museum wanted to revisit his work in order to make the public rediscover his innovative fantasy, her taste for the spectacle and her artistic modernity.

“Shocking ! The surreal worlds of Elsa Schiaparelli’ brings together 520 works including 272 costumes and fashion accessories, set against 248 paintings, sculptures, jewellery, perfume bottles, ceramics, posters and photographs signed by the greatest names of the time, from Man Ray to Salvador Dalí, from Jean Cocteau to Meret Oppenheim or Elsa Triolet. This major retrospective also highlights the heritage of the Schiaparelli style with silhouettes interpreted by famous couturiers paying homage to it: Yves Saint Laurent, Azzedine Alaïa, John Galliano, Christian Lacroix. Daniel Roseberry, artistic director of the Schiaparelli house since 2019, interprets the legacy of Elsa Schiaparelli. The exhibition is presented in the Christine & Stephen A. Schwarzman fashion galleries in a poetic and immersive scenography entrusted to Nathalie Crinière.

“ Working with artists like Bébé Bérard, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dalí, Vertès and Van Dongen, with photographers like Honingen-Huene, Horst, Cecil Beaton and Man Ray, was exhilarating. We felt helped, encouraged, beyond the material and boring reality of making a dress to sell. »
Shocking life , Elsa Schiaparelli – 1954

In our contemporary era, which conceives the close dialogue between fashion and art as obvious, more than ever Elsa Schiaparelli seems of our time, as an “ inspired ” seamstress as she liked to define herself. Raised in a humanist and scholarly environment, Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) embraced fashion, never denying her deep fascination for art and for artists, while becoming as much a creator as a woman of image, having fun haute couture like a kaleidoscope, evening dresses, city outfits, sports models, accessories, and perfumes. Dodging the heaviness of a social environment, she offers her the freedom to explore forms and inspirations, those she builds with passion and humor with her artist friends, many of whom consider her to be an artist herself.

Combining thematic and chronological approaches, the exhibition is organized on two levels around key moments in the work of Elsa Schiaparelli, linking together the most remarkable collections, from year to year, some of which are in connection with the artists. accomplices, function as the sensitive sources of his creativity. Irrigating the itinerary of the exhibition, these artistic themes punctuate the stages of Elsa Schiaparelli’s life. The introductory room, a spectacular, immersive space, plunges the visitor into a total environment dedicated to the drawings from Schiaparelli’s collections preserved by the hundreds: they highlight the extent of the work of the seamstress. The artist’s awakening to fashion and modernity is explored as well as the decisive role of the couturier Paul Poiret, whom she met in 1922. A true mentor,

Elsa Schiaparelli then made sweaters with trompe-l’oeil motifs, an idea as brilliant as it was radical, and parallel to this awakened her taste for Art Deco, notably in contact with Jean Dunand who designed for her a refined dress whose folds were painted with lacquer. Then she inaugurated a rich series of collaborations which illuminated a constellation of artists: thus Elsa Triolet, Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dalí for her collections of fashion and accessories.

She develops her acute sense of detail through models largely inspired by surrealist aesthetics, diverting the most astonishing patterns and materials: transparent plastics, crayfish-shaped buttons, ” drawer pockets “, lobsters. She inspires Man Ray just as much and becomes his model: many photographs testify to this fruitful complicity.

The exhibition continues with the thematic collections that Elsa Schiaparelli initiates alone around the sources of inspiration that are dear to her: Italian antiquity, nature and music.

The ” Pagan ” collection is a nod to Antiquity in reference to Ovid’s metamorphoses, the ” Butterfly ” collection is an ode to insects (source of inspiration shared with surrealist artists), the ” Music ” collection from 1939 seems to endlessly stretch and lengthen the silhouette of the modern woman.

The mythical duo formed by Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dalí, driven by a pungent taste for scandal and artistic provocation, is highlighted in a room dedicated to her, revealing the iconic ” lobster dress ” or the famous ” shoe hat ” . , a sort of surrealist bibi. The second floor opens onto a reconstruction of Elsa Schiaparelli’s couture salons, then located at 21 place Vendôme in Paris, which she inaugurated in 1935. For the layout and decoration of the interiors, she called on Jean-Michel Frank for its clean, ultra-chic and elegant lines. She dresses the extravagant ones of the planet there and acquires an international reputation.

The “ perfume cage ” reveals the setting for her original olfactory creations, including the famous “ Shocking ” which would become a worldwide success, giving full meaning to the designer’s brilliant sense of marketing.

Emphasis is also placed on the complex and luxurious art of embroidery: Elsa Schiaparelli indeed calls on the Lesage house for the creation of bespoke embroidery, as many fashion houses have done since 1924. The collections of the 1938s and 1939 summon the imagination of the ” commedia dell’arte “, drawing inspiration from the characters of the 18th century Italian comedy, colorful, the so-called ” astrological ” collection to which it mixes baroque references linked to Versailles and to the Sun King, with the celebration of the French 17th century, and finally the “ Cirque » with its sumptuous boleros embroidered with horses, acrobats and elephants. Pre-war designs show a rather narrow cigarette silhouette while post-war designs are looser and more constructed.

The journey ends with the contemporary silhouettes created by Daniel Roseberry with a spectacular finale translating with sensitivity and strength the surrealist inspiration of its eminent founder.

In twenty-five years, Elsa Schiaparelli has made fashion a natural breath of the avant-garde, a playground in which to reinvent both woman and femininity, allure as well as spirit, in a work that remains unique. striking news. It embodies a vision of a dazzling and vibrant Paris, curious about everything, having fun with each novelty.

It is this incredible freedom of creation that the exhibition wishes to offer visitors, freedom to surprise, freedom to dialogue, freedom to be oneself, through models, designs and jewellery, many of which, thousands for the drawings in particular were donated in 1973 by Elsa Schiaparelli to the Union française des Arts du costume, of which the Musée des Arts Décoratifs holds the funds. As a last modern gesture, that of preserving his artistic heritage to transmit it and thus allow history to continue, timeless, that of having lived his art as the fruitful place of the most unexpected and the most fertile crossings.

Images: ‘Shocking! The Surrealist World of Elsa Schiaparelli’, exhibition views

Image 1 © Les Arts Décoratifs / Christophe Dellière.

Image 2 photograph courtesy of Amy de la Haye.