Paris Between the Wars – “S” is for Elsa Schiaparelli


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Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

Elsa Schiaparelli, 1937
Elsa Schiaparelli, 1937

Along with Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, Schiaparelli is regarded as one of the most prominent fashion designers of the period between the two wars.

Born in Rome to an aristocratic family, Elsa was sent to a strict convent boarding school in Switzerland, but was rebellious and staged a hunger strike until her parents brought her home. Her life was comfortable, but unfulfilling, and to avoid an arranged marriage to a wealthy Russian, she impulsively married a charismatic con man in 1914. Elsa gave birth to a daughter, and her husband fled.

In Paris, Schiaparelli lived well, and she continued to receive financial support from her family, but she wanted to earn an independent income. She had no technical training in pattern making and sewing, and she relied on impulse and inspiration, sometimes using herself as the model. Her “pour le Sport” clothing line took off in 1927, and included bathing suits, ski-wear, and linen dresses. A darker tone was set when France declared war on Germany in 1939. Schiaparelli’s Spring 1940 collection featured “trench” brown and camouflage print taffetas.

 1937 | Elsa Schiaparelli shoe-hat Drawing by Marcel Vertès Source: Archivio Alinari
1937 | Elsa Schiaparelli shoe-hat
Drawing by Marcel Vertès
Source: Archivio Alinari

Paris Between the Wars – “L” is for Jeanne Lanvin


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Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

Portrait of Jeanne Lanvin, by Dufau, 1925
Portrait of Jeanne Lanvin, by Dufau, 1925

The woman whose name is synonymous with French haute couteur was born in Paris in 1867, the eldest of eleven children. She trained as a milliner (hatmaker) and dressmaker before establishing herself as a milliner at the age of 22.

Lanvin made dresses for her young daughter and caught the eye of some of Paris’ wealthiest individuals, who requested that Lanvin make similar dresses for their children. Soon, she was making dresses for their mothers, who became clients of her new boutique. By the 1920s, Lanvin had opened a dye factory, and shops devoted to lingerie, menswear, and furs. Her most significant creation, however, and that for which she is so widely known, was the introduction of her signature fragrance, Arpège.

Arpege

Here you see the design of mother and daughter, so appropriate as Jeanne Lanvin perfected the concept of ‘mother-daughter dressing’ in her work.

“The name Lanvin for me,” wrote Christian Dior, “was bound up with the memory of girls in robes de style whom I danced my first foxtrots, Charlestons, and shimmies with.”

Paris Between the Wars – “C” is for Coco Chanel


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Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

Coco Chanel
Coco Chanel

Born in 1883 as Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, Coco Chanel popularized a casual chic style of fashion for women in post-World War I Paris. Her mother was a laundrywoman and her father, an street vendor. Raised in poverty, Gabrielle was sent to a convent orphanage at the age of 12, following the death of her mother. At the convent, she learned to sew, and was able to work as a seamstress. By 23, she was the mistress to a wealthy textile heir, Étienne Balsan, who lavished her with diamonds, dresses, and pearls. An affair with one of Balsan’s friends resulted in the financing of her first shops.

Her first designs were hats only, but in 1913, Chanel opened a boutique in the resort town of Deauville, France, where she introduced deluxe, casual clothes suitable for leisure and sport.

coco-chanel-aunt-adriennecoco-chanel

By 1919, Chanel was registered as a couturière and established her maison de couture at 31 rue Cambon, Paris. Eight years later, she owned five buildings on the street. Her No. 5 fragrance was available in department stores, and by 1930, she was a very wealthy woman.

One of her friends at this time was Misia Sert, a member of the “bohemian elite” in Paris, and with whom she shared drug use. By 1935, Coco Chanel was injecting herself with morphine on a daily basis (a habit she maintained until the end of her life in 1971). According to gossip and legend, she was called Coco because of her elaborate cocaine parties.

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Chanel closed her shops but maintained her apartment situated above the couture house at 31 Rue de Cambon. She claimed that it was not a time for fashion, and as a result of her action, 3,000 female employees lost their jobs.

“A girl should be two things – classy and fabulous.” ~ Coco Chanel