Friday, September 4, 2009
Dear Elsa: What could be more witty than wearing the Shoe Hat, a hat shaped like a woman's high heeled shoe. Only Madame Schiaparelli, the friend of Salvadore Dali, Jacques Cocteau and other artists of the Surrealic and Dada movements could have created such a witty bit of fashion froth. Yet, even Daisy Fellowes, Franco-American editor of French Harper's Bazaar wore it and others followed your sensational advant-garde approach to fashion. You were the epitome of the art of "genius," which aptly describes your creative and innovative oeuvre. You brought a sense of playfulness to fashion, reacting as it did against the rational and formal real world and substituting instead fantasy and "je n'est ce pas." I am your admirer.
The Lobster Dress
What would the fashionistas in Maine say about the 1937 Lobster Dress? Well Schiaparelli, the most outlandish of the Parisian haute couture designers might have said, "If you can't eat your lobster you can wear it." Quite simply she created a white silk evening dress with a crimson waistband onto which the Salvador Dali painted a large red lobster on the skirt. And, dear readers of this blog, did anyone catch Wallis Simpson wearing the same dress at the Chateau de Cande, where photographer, Cecil Beaton took a series of photos of the temptress who caught the heart of a Edward VIII. Isn't this lobster dress quite symbolic as Wallis got her claws on the king apparent with a lobster grip?
The 1936 "Desk Suit"
Going to the office would never be the same wearing the "Desk Suit." Tailored and fit for even modern executive princesses, Schiaparelli designed the jacket with a series of pockets, real and false, fashioned and embroidered by the famous House of Lesage to look like desk drawers with buttons for knobs. Alas this may have been one way to carry your office to extremes, but it beats anything the "Devil Wears Prada" wore. The suit was based on two Surrealist drawings by Salvador Dali entitled, 'City of Drawers' and 'Venus de Milo of Drawers.' Surrealism in fashion thrived in the l930s, and
Scap's smart, sophisticated and witty clothes took the fashion world by storm. I predict that it's about time that fun was brought back into fashion. It was Scap who created sweaters with surrealist trompe l'oeil images. When Lili de Alvarez wore Scap's divided skirt
at the Wimbledon Championships in 1931 she shocked the tennis world but this paved the way for shorts which were soon to follow. Her sport collection were a sensation and Scap's business percipitated a moved from the Rue de La Paix to the Schiap Shop in the prestigious Place Vendome.
A Rival of Chanel
The Chanel empire may have been the most successful financially, Schiaparelli's legacy was that of an originator, she did not follow the rules, but was more originator in a class by herself, an artist who made fashion. Along with Coco Chanel, Schiaparelli is regarded as one of the most prominent designers in fashion between the two World Wars. Women coveted her crafty designs and trompe l'oeil sweaters. The rag business on 7th Avenue in New York City copied her original surreal ideas and coast to coast every little shop girl, secretary and model, who probably never even heard of Scap were wearing her fashions from coast to coast. Let's give credit where credit is due. Schiaparelli created wraparound dresses way before Diane von Furstenberg. Remember those l930s flicks with soignee ladies wear evening dresses with a chic little jacket? That was a first by Scap as well as fastenings on jackets with novelty buttons like vegetables or flowers. Details like this made fashion fun and exciting to wear. Even her perfume "Shocking" packaged in the brilliant hue of hot pink was notable for its torso bottle. It was inspired by Mae West's figure for Scap had created costumes for Mae West using a mannequin based on West's measurements.
Born into Royalty
Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973), the Italian fashion designer, headquarters Paris, was born under of star of privilege at the Palazzo Corsini in Rome. Her famous lineage included Giovanni Schiaparelli, who discovered the canali of Mars, and she spent many hours with him studying the heavens and forming her own dreams of
fantasy. After a short stint at a convent, not doubt arranged by her family after the publication of a book of her sensuous poems, which shocked their conservative sensibilities. At 22 after a hunger strike Scap escaped the confines of the convent and went off to London to work as a Nanny, but you can be sure that was not on her mind. While attending alecture she met and later married on of her lecturers, Count William de Wendt de Kerlor a Franco-Swiss. theosophist. The no account Count took off as soon as the arrived in New York and left Scap with their child, Maria Luisa Yvonne Radha de Wendt de Kerlor, known as Gogo Schiaparelli, who in her day became a celebrated socialite. While in New York Scap met artist Marcel Duchamp, famed for his painting "Nude descending a Staircase" which was a sensation at the Armory Show in 1923. When another friend, Gaby Picabia, owner of a boutique selling French fashion in New York and DuChamp and Man Ray left for Paris, Schiaparelli joined them. The famed designer who freed women from corsets with his chemise dress encouraged Scap to start her own business which initially failed but by l927 her knitwear launch with the trompe l'oeil images took off and her success jumpstarted. During WWII she left Paris and unfortunately Schiaparelli never adapted to the changes in fashion and Dior's 'New Look' was all the rage. She closed her business in l954 and enjoyed her retirement years in comfort between her apartment in Paris and house in Tunisia. Adieu, Schiaparelli!! I can only think how much fun fashion would be if only your great surrealistic passion permeated fashion today.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Dear Sonia: As a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology I often spoke to my students about innovations in color and especially your remarkable ouevre as an outstanding painter and exceptional colorist. The connection between you and the German art collector, Wilhelm Uhde came about when I saw the remarkable film, Seraphine," about the French artist Seraphine Louis of Senil, a poorly educated woman who labored as a domestic in the south of France. Evolving as a
primitive painter Seraphine and Uhde, the avant-garde dealer, developed an unexpected relationship in which he promoted and sold the untrained, visionary maid's primitive art works. Wilhelm Uhde also played a major role in your life by presenting your work in his gallery in Paris and introducing you to Parisian society. You were a woman determined to succeed and married Uhde in a union that brought you to the forefront of the art world.
A Marriage of Convenience
In 1908, pressured by the demands of her influential and wealthy family Sonia needed to take steps to conform to tradition. During her first year in Paris she met and married the homosexual art collector and gallery owner Wilhelm Uhde. This union was no doubt a marriage of convenience to escape her parent's demands and at the same time for Uhde, through this public marriage to Sonia, it would 'save face' so to speak and mask his homosexuality. The marriage was an amicable arrangment and through Uhde's impressive connections and exhibitions of Sonia's art work the stage was set for her launch into the art world. Love in Paris
Love walked in one day when Robert Delaunay's aunt, a frequent visitor to the Uhde Gallery, introduced her nephew to Sonia. There was instant attraction and by April 1909 Sonia and Robert became lovers. They were two artists of kindred spirit but with Sonia's unexpected pregnancy it was decided that she and Uhde should divorce. The Delaunay's son, Charles was born the next year on January 18th.
About this time cubist works were introduced in Paris and Robert and Sonia were at the forefront of the movement. He had been studying color theories and "designsimultaneisme," which is similar to the Pointillism, as used by Georges Seurat in which primary color dots placed next to each other are "mixed" by the eye of the beholder. In 1912 Sonia began a series of non-figurative paintings called, Contrastes Simultanes, combining geometric forms with bright, prismatic hues. This work was based on the theory of the simultaneous contrast of colors of the l9th century chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul. Sonia became a leading Parisian artist of Orphism. In the Dulaunay's collaboration financial success was eminent. However, during the early period of the Delaunay's marriage they garnered a meager income and were supported by funds sent from Sonia's aunt in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Orphism Movement
Credit goes to the Delaunay's friend, poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire who coined the term 'Orphism,' a movement which developed out of Cubism, which made color the primary means of artistic expression. Sonia's work extended from painting to textile design, fashion, wallcoverings and stage set design. In 1924 she opened a fashion studio together with the French Haute Couture designer, Jacques Heim. Brilliantly colored and sharply patterned geometric designs were lavishly displayed in the creation of her 'simultaneous' fashions. She not only wore her Orphism influenced garments but stopped traffic in Paris when she appeared wearing a totally coordinated ensemble (cloche hat, coat and matching dress) that merged Orphism art and fashion with the interior of her automobile which was upholstered in matching textile. Sonia's art, fashion and textiles were at the height of commercial production and she exhibited her diverse collection in the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, which gave way later to the term "Art Deco." In 1964, she was the first living female to have a retrospective at the Louvre and later she was named an officer of the French Legion of Honor.
Sonia Delaunay (nee Terk 1885-1979) was sent at a young age to St. Petersburg where she lived with her mother's brother Henri Terk, a successful and affluent Jewish lawyer. Although her mother was reluctant at first to submit to the plan, Sonia was adopted by the Anna and Henri Terk in 1890. Through this privileged upbringing with the Terks she traveled widely in Europe which introduced Sonia to museums and galleries. In St. Petersburg her skill at drawing was noted by her teacher and when she was eighteen she was sent to art school in Germany, where she attended the Academy of Fine Arts. After reading a book which claimed that Paris was the center of the true art world, Sonia made one of her most decisive decisions and moved to the capital of light where her career took off through her marriage to Uhde. Sonia Delaunay-Terk died in 1979 in Paris at the age of 94 leaving a legacy of color and textile ingenuity, that has influenced countless artists who followed.
Sonia Delaunay was an extraordinary colorist, abstract painter and applied her talents and theories to all areas of visual expression. Her designs in textiles and fashion remain the epitome of modernism.