When Elsa Schiaparelli arrived in Paris in 1922 at the age of 32, after a long detour through London and New York, the future fashion priestess was penniless. Her daughter suffers from poliomyelitis. The husband and father set sail. Coming from the Roman upper middle class, she broke the ban and her only wealth was her temperament, the confidence she placed in her intuitions and her solid friendships with figures of the Parisian avant-garde, such as the musician Gabriele Buffet-Picabia.
It was through her that the future darling of the most extravagant Hollywood and world women met Paul Poiret. The great couturier falls under his spell and encourages him to get started. She makes her very first piece in her corner with the help of an Armenian peasant woman who knows how to knit, a revolutionary trompe-l’oeil sweatshirt representing “a large bow in the shape of a butterfly on the front, like a scarf wrapped around the neck “. A unique piece whose success is resounding.
“Schiap” – this is how she speaks of her in her autobiography, and in the third person – honors a first order, then settles in stride in an attic on rue de la Paix. We are in 1927. Her audacity paid off, she multiplied her projects, made the front page of Time in 1934 and settled down in Place Vendôme the following year. Farewell lean cows, Elsa Schiaparelli is embarking on two decades of audacity and celebrations. A dizzying freedom to which, among many others, Yves Saint Laurent and John Galliano will lay claim.
An extraordinary destiny
Romanesque, his life is a melodrama, a comedy, a drama, a success story, an adventure film, coupled with an odyssey. A screenwriter would not have allowed himself to imagine such a trajectory. A fortiori, to reserve so many good and bad surprises for a female character from the first half of the 20th century, born in a world of spiked helmets, crinolines and corsets.
Published in 1954, the year she closed shop and kept only her perfumes, Shocking. Memories of Elsa Schiaparelli, is now benefiting from a reissue with a preface by Sophie Fontanel, as well as an exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris from July 6.
On more than 300 pages, the creator tells her story, collecting verbal flights of this vein: “Schiap ascended into the rarefied regions of his most fantastic imagination and launched cascades of fireworks. That being said, she is telling the truth. For example, this shoe hat that she designed in 1937 with the complicity of her friend Salvatore Dalí, a sort of cocked hat in black felt, in the shape of a shoe upside down, heel pointing skyward.
Having passed the time to acclimatize to a busy, rather dated style, the book opens a wide window, with a terrace and a view of the sea, on the psyche and the stories that inhabit an extraordinary woman. A “difficult child”, she wrote, who was repeatedly told that she was ugly and her sister so pretty that she “sought ways to make herself beautiful”. And led his adult life without ever giving in to fear or desire.
Which makes the moment touching when in full glory, caught off guard by an earthquake in Los Angeles, she confides: “It took me a while to realize that it was an earthquake and I admit, to my shame, that I was terrified. Nearly fifty years after his death, fashion seismographs have not finished recording the aftershocks of his passage through the spheres of creation.