Savage rips and tears cover Elsa Schiaparelli's slender evening gown and head-veil. A closer look reveals the illusion. The dress is printed, and the rips in the veil have been carefully cut out and lined in pink and magenta. The trompe l'oeil (illusionistic) 'Tears' print was specially designed by Schiaparelli's friend, the artist Salvador Dali. Some of his Surrealist paintings showed figures in ripped skin-tight clothing, disturbingly suggestive of flayed flesh. Schiaparelli owned one of these pictures, which perhaps gave her the idea for this dress. Dali also helped her design the Skeleton Dress (see T.394-1974).
This dress was part of Schiaparelli's famous 'Circus Collection' of 1938. It was a riotous, swaggering fashion show that attracted a great deal of publicity. Clothes were decorated with acrobats and performing animals. The models wore clown hats and carried balloon-shaped handbags. The Tears and Skeleton dresses must have been doubly shocking amongst all this madcap gaiety. Dali's patron, Edward James, gave these dresses to Ruth Ford, the sister of the Surrealist poet Charles Henri Ford.