“Shocking! The Surreal World of Elsa Schiaparelli” is currently on view at Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris through January 22, 2023. The sweeping exhibition rejoices in the daring and breathtaking creations of Italian couturière Elsa Schiaparelli, who drew much of her inspiration from her close ties to the Parisian avant-garde of the 1920s and ‘30s. Twenty years since the last retrospective devoted to Schiaparelli at the museum, the moment has arrived to revisit the exceptional designer’s work: her creative sense of feminine style, sophisticated designs, and enchantment that she brought to the world. The exhibition’s poetic and immersive scenography was created by Nathalie Crinière.
The retrospective assembles 520 works, including 272 silhouettes and accessories by Schiaparelli herself displayed alongside iconic paintings, sculptures, jewelry, perfumes, ceramics, posters, and photographs by Schiaparelli’s dear friends and contemporaries: Man Ray, Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau, Meret Oppenheim, and Elsa Triolet. The presentation also showcases creations designed in honor of Schiaparelli by fashion icons including Yves Saint Laurent, Azzedine Alaïa, John Galliano, and Christian Lacroix. Daniel Roseberry, artistic director of Schiaparelli since 2019, boldly interprets the heritage of the couturière with a design of his own.
The creative dialogue that exists between fashion and art has become a matter of fact, but few did more to shape this conversation than Elsa Schiaparelli. The “inspired seamstress,” as she humbly referred to herself, embraced fashion through her deep fascination with art and artists. She was a creator of image, designing haute couture, fashioning evening dresses, styling street clothes, crafting accessories, and mixing perfumes. Avoiding the familiarity of “society,” Schiaparelli freely explored her inspirations, particularly through her friendships with artists, many of whom considered her to be a full-fledged artist in her own right.
“Shocking!” is organized thematically and chronologically around key moments in the career of Schiaparelli, connecting her remarkable collections from year to year with the works of friends and contemporaries who inspired her designs. The awakening of the artist in fashion and modernity is explored alongside the role that designer Paul Poiret played as a mentor in her life beginning in 1922. She went on to design her trompe l’œil patterned sweaters, which ignited in her a taste for Art Deco—particularly after her contact with Jean Dunand, who designed for Schiaparelli a dress with lacquer painted pleats. She collaborated with a variety of artists, including Triolet, Cocteau, and Dalí.
Inspired by the surrealist aesthetic, she introduced patterns and materials in transparent plastics, crawfish shaped buttons, “drawer pockets,” and lobsters. She inspired Man Ray and became his model, as seen through the many photographs that testify to their fruitful relationship. Schiaparelli’s additional sources of inspiration—– Italian antiquity, nature and music—are seen throughout the exhibition. The Pagan Collection gives a nod to Antiquity with references to Ovid’s metamorphoses, while the Butterfly Collection is an ode to insects. A room dedicated to the mythical collaboration formed between Schiaparelli and Dalí showcases his legendary Lobster Dress and the infamous Hat Shoe.
The show introduces the reconstruction of Schiaparelli’s couture salons, then located at 21 Place Vendôme in Paris, inaugurated in 1935. For interior design and decorations, she called upon Jean-Michel Frank for his sleek, ultra-chic and elegant lines. There, she dressed the world’s most extravagant ladies and quickly acquired an international reputation. The perfume cage showcases her original olfactory creations, including the legendary “Shocking.” Emphasis is also placed on the intricate and luxurious art of embroidery and Schiaparelli’s taste for the works of Maison Lesage, founded in 1924, who created bespoke embroideries for her and other important fashion houses, and continues to do so.
In 25 years, Elsa Schiaparelli turned fashion into a natural element of the avant-garde. She embodied a bright and vibrant Paris, curious and enjoying each novelty that came her way. It is freedom that the exhibition inspires in the visitor—to create and to be oneself. Musée des Arts Décoratifs preserves the timeless works of Schiaparelli, allowing her art, design, and vision to live on.