Suit, fall 1938
Elsa Schiaparelli was influenced by the Surrealist art scene of Paris in the 1930s, and references to that movement frequently materialize in her designs. Artists were using collage, photography and paint as their medium; Schiaparelli was using clothing.
Here, in a suit from her fall 1938 Pagan collection, she incorporates three elements that have become hallmarks of her career: interesting fabric, Surrealist elements, and unconventional buttons. Schiaparelli scoured fabric houses to find fabrics that perfectly translated her artistic ideas. The crepe used for this jacket and dress is highly textured, adding a rough dimension to the overall design.
The Surrealist elements here, the plastic bug ornaments, are shockingly realistic and in juxtaposition to the delicate pink silk of the collar where they rest. As Dilys Blum states in Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli, many designs from this collection featured earthy decorations inspired by Botticelli's paintings, like flowers, fruits, animals, and insects.
Buttons were another form of expression for Schiaparelli. In this case, the leaf-shaped buttons represent foliate forms, another common motif seen throughout the Pagan collection. This unusual ensemble would require a certain level of fashion bravado, and the previous owner, Millicent Rogers, definitely possessed that.
Cutout scrollwork shapes on the buckle top relate to those on a violin, forms immortalized in Man Ray's 1924 photograph Le Violin d'Ingres. An elaboration of the Surrealist notion of woman's body as musical instrument, the wholly integrated creation captures the visual, audible, and transcendent essence of music in the person of the wearer.
As noted by fashion historian Dilys Blum in Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli, the colors and materials used for the collection "rotated around the sun." Evocative of sun rays emerging from behind clouds against a stormy sky, the fuschia, pink and violet sequin embroidery worked on blue-gray silk shot with glittering gold is an exemplar. Visible zippers used as decorative devices as well as functioning closures, a Schiaparelli halllmark, here are placed on the shoulders like epaulets.
Schiaparelli's work is characterized by an overall artistic quality that transcends a strictly fashionable vibe. This blouse, with its dense embroidery, sophisticated coloration and asymmetric details, beautifully illustrates that concept.