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