Fashion depicts a lot more than we assume. Appearance is a fundamental fragment of culture, structured, not just in deeds, reflections, and aspirations, but also in material objects, especially material objects; lipstick, bows, jewels, and frocks. Elsa Schiaparelli was born in Rome 1890. She left Italy in 1913 for Paris then London. In 1920, she returned to Paris and met Paul Poiret who encouraged her into fashion. In 1927, she opened her first salon, which specialized in sportswear and trompe l’oeil sweaters. From then on, it was a rise to success for her, and she became famous due to her daring sense of creativity and innovativeness. Her sense of fashion was contradictory, and this is what lured her clients and supporters. In the essay, we shall discuss what Evans and Thornton implied by their reflection above, the life of Schiaparelli and link her success as a female designer to the reflection, the cultural as well as her fashion background of Paris in the 1920s-1930s. We shall further couple this with Elsa’s success and finally, the conceptual framework of modernity fashion and the city (Paris) during the era. Below in an image of Elsa Schiaparelli
At some juncture in history, women would no longer be entirely subject to their husbands, stay in the kitchen and exclusively tend to offspring. They needed to create things for themselves and acquire a significant level of individuality. Evans and Thornton clearly meant that women had evolved and desired success by all means. This was especially encapsulated in their ability to create new attires to suit the changing times. The attitude of and about fashion was established by women of the upper classes. This is because these women had the time, affluence and motive to pursue high fashion at their disposal. Moreover, it is imperative to note that attires indicated social status. According to Joanne (2010, p.83) the fashion theory asserts that “fashion embodies identity.” Women in the early 21st century practicality sought for fashion. The rigidly prescribed full dresses hampered the activities they so desired to engage in; hence, the introduction of the trainless short skirt. Outdoor activities were gaining popularity as well as becoming more and more acceptable, especially for women. People began to fully realize the practicality of fashion articles as there was an ever increasing change in roles. As a result, this paved way for the need to adjust clothing. Women were driving and playing sports, and the creative fashion designers seized the opportunity to bring in new pieces such as tennis skirts, sport sweaters and beach pajamas. Tonchi (2004, p.56) clearly states “there has been a long history of collaboration and energy between fashion and art.” Women like ‘Coco’ Chanel, Schiaparelli, and Madeleine Vionnet began to establish themselves as art fashion designers and amassed considerable wealth. A prefect exemplar is Chanel who came up with the three piece suit which consisted of a cardigan, pullover sweater, and a skirt made out of patterned jersey fabric.
According to Blum (2003, p.32), “Elsa’s daring and surreal designs changed fashion forever.” Her first salon in 1927 included a black-and-white bow-knot sweater, which was her first success. She also brought in the perfume “S” in 1928. In 1931, she designed a divided tennis skirt worn by the tennis star Lili de Alvarez at Wimbledon and was a huge success. According to Cumming et al (2010, p95), Elsa is renowned for her innovative and assertive ideas, and was the first to try out a couple of things. She was the pioneer of using shoulder pads, donning animal prints, trompe l’oeil prints, and using embroidery in outfits. She made dyed-to-match zippers and was the first to pink, which she termed as ‘shocking pink’ as well as the first woman to issue press releases. Her collections were theme-based: 1935-Stop, Look and Listen. 1937-Music Collection, Circus Collection, Pagan Collection, 1938- Zodiac Collection, which had a queer evening jacket, 1939-Commedia dell’Arte Collection and 1940-Cash and Carry Collection.
Elsa's rise came at time when the Parisian culture and fashion was transforming and taking on new trends (Taylor, 2002, p.66). Women were eager to break out of the norm, and Schiaparelli’s designs were readily accepted and worn. Coming from a family bequeathed with wealth, her presentations were creative and classy with music backdrops, acrobatics and light shows. Cumming (2004, p76) mentions that Schiaparelli was fond of designing an entire ensemble with shoes, hats, gloves, and jewelry. In 1937, she released her second fragrance, Shocking, whose bottle was shaped like the voluptuous body of Mae West. Elsa rose out of the ordinary and Parisians loved her for it. She designed a hat that looked like a shoe, a lobster printed at the front of a white silk dress, a handbag that resembled a telephone, and a hat with a complete bird nest. She was also known for being hilarious individual, which could have been instrumental in influencing her avant-garde designs and creations (Joanne, 2010, p.87). Schiaparelli has inspired fashion moguls exemplified by individuals like Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, as well as John Galliano. In 2003, the Philadelphia Museum of Art featured her work, and in 2004, Muse`e de la Mode et de Textile in Paris presented a glorious Elsa Schiaparelli retrospective exhibition.
Paris after the French revolution was splashed with an array of innovative and sophisticated women. There was a sense of luxury, and with it, the Haute Couture developed. Journal des Dames et des Modes was a fashion magazine published in the late 18th century and early 19th. In the 1920s, fashion took a new turn. The purse was crafted in silk and embroidered with lace and metal thread. During the summer, the frocks worn were of organdie and lace combined with chiffon. All skirts were long, and sleeves were conspicuous by the sheer lack of them. The vintage swimsuit, which was a two piece swimsuit comprised of a jersey shirt flannel coupled with flannel trousers.
According to Taylor (2004, p.112), boudoir caps were colorful silk and lace with ribbons, bows and flowers and were worn at dawn by women of all classes in the privacy of the bedroom. After the First World War, the French, more significantly, Parisians wanted to be rid of the pre-war values. Mentalities and ways of living were revolutionized (Joanne, 2010, p89). There was a ‘cry’ for feminine emancipation and women craved to be responsible for themselves and their futures. Their cultures modified whereby leisure was accessible to the middle class. As a result of the cry for women emancipation, they began to attended music hall shows, operettas and the circus. The radio and car industry developed and were viewed as ‘symbols of modernity and elegance’ (Harmon, 2001). Surrealism, which was a sort of literary movement, drew in writers and authors. Jazz was very fashionable in luxurious parties (Harmon, 2001).
People also began to take into account paintings, sculptures and design:, this can be exemplified by Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. Women’s status changed during the war. They became more active and independent; hence, they felt free and liked fashion. Women were at liberty to could cut their hair, wear make-up and perfume, and could smoke in public. Moreover, thin silhouette, short dresses, bare legs, and heels were also incorporated. A more athletic look and donning of golf trousers were also very fashionable for men. Rivals, Chanel, and Schiaparelli took on fashion with a certain vengeance. Schiaparelli’s innovativeness fueled the change in women’s perception by bringing in designs that seemed to have been specially tailored for the attitudes of the women. According to Harmon (2001), by the end of the 1930s, Paris had been hit by a wave of riveting architecture, fashion, furniture, classical culture, modernism, and technology.
Joanne (2010, p.104) asserts that fashion seems to be at the forefront of change, preceding extensive socio-cultural transformations. The modification of women’s fashion in the early 1920s to 1930s gave women more physical liberty nonconformity. This freedom paved way for women’s political grant. The prevalence of casual wear from the 1930s was not only a sustenance in the changing live of the people of then, but also a means of structuring social change itself. Schiaparelli brought forth a revolution in history and fashion. She affected the attitudes of the people in her time with her ‘crazy,’ yet creative designs that seemed enchanting and charismatic. They were also shocking and humorous to a very large extend. She was brave and assertive, and in her own way, led the way through change in fashion and culture. The women of Paris amassed enough courage to transform their lives by following the bold example set by Elsa. She was willing to step out of her comfort zone and conquer a changing culture with elegance and creative originality. Schiaparelli remarkable contribution continues to be celebrated to this day.