Tabulous Tastemaker: Elsa Schiaparelli

September 10, 2014

By Tab Byrum

Today we are remembering Tabulous Tastemaker Elsa Schiaparelli on what would have been her 124th birthday.




  Often described as Chanel’s chief competition the Italian dressmaker was born  in Rome in 1890, her father was the Dean of The University of Rome and her mother was a Neapolitan aristocrat.  She was also the niece of famed astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli who is credited with discovering canals on the surface of Mars.  Schiaparelli had a very comfortable and privileged life growing up but believed that this type of upbringing was stifling her creativity, so as early as she could she left her life in Rome, first moving to New York City where she worked in a boutique selling French fashions, then followed friends and moved to Paris.

In Paris Schiap, as her friends called her, began designing and making her own clothes.  Soon she opened her first business but that closed in 1926 and in 1927 she opened a second design business focusing on knitwear and this business really took off.  Her sweaters with surrealist images on them were much sought after and soon she branched out into bathing suits and ski wear and her “divided skirt” was the forerunner to shorts for women.  


Eventually Schiaparelli began designing evening wear, in which she combined gorgeous fabrics and designs with art because for her fashion was as much about art as it was creating clothes.






Schiaparelli designed for movies and movie stars of the day including Mae West for Every Day’s A Holiday and Zsa Zsa Gabor in Moulin Rouge as well as society leaders like the Duchess of Windsor.




 Schiaparelli was also famous for her hats which included the upside down ladies shoe chapeau which was sketched by Salvador Dali.



 She stopped designing in 1951 and closed her design house in 1954, but continued designing, mainly accessories and eventually wigs.






Schiaparelli and her close friend and collaborator, artist Salvador Dali

Schiaparelli wrote her biography, Shocking Life and released it in 1954.  She lived a comfortable life after retiring,  shuttling back and forth between her Paris home and a home in Tunisia.  She died in Paris in 1973 at the age of 83.

I leave you today with Schiaparelli’s 12 Commandments For Women from her autobiography, which are still very true today:

  1. Since most women do not know themselves, they should try to do so.
  2. A woman who buys an expensive dress and changes it, often with disastrous result, is extravagant and foolish.
  3. Most women (and men) are colour-blind. They should ask for suggestions.
  4. Remember, 20 percent of women have inferiority complexes, 70 percent have illusions.
  5. Ninety percent are afraid of being conspicuous, and of what people will say. So they buy a gray suit. They should dare to be different.
  6. Women should listen and ask for competent criticism and advice.
  7. They should choose their clothes alone or in the company of a man.
  8. They should never shop with another woman, who sometimes consciously, and often unconsciously, is apt to be jealous.
  9. She should buy little and only of the best or the cheapest.
  10. Never fit a dress to the body, but train the body to fit the dress.
  11. A woman should buy mostly in one place where she is known and respected, and not rush around trying every new fad.
  12. And she should pay her bills.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos are courtesy of Pinterest.

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