A New Exhibition in Paris Reveals Some of Elsa Schiaparelli’s Most Iconic Designs

Lindsay Judge   |   04-07-2022

Elsa Schiaparelli is one of the most iconic and recognised couturiers of the last century, and now a new exhibition will celebrate some of her bold and exciting fashion creations from over the years.


Taking place at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris “Shocking! The Surreal World of Elsa Schiaparelli” will run from July 6th 2022 to January 22nd 2023 sharing the story of the fashion icon’s life and some of her most iconic creations. Elsa drew much of her inspiration from the close ties to the Parisian avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s. Her design style was both innovative and groundbreaking for its time and her designs were often eccentric and bold, bringing thrill to the world of fashion.


Details of the “Phoebus” Cloak
Winter 1937-1938
Wool, silk and embroidery Musée des Arts décoratifs © Valérie Belin


In just 25 years Elsa Schiaparelli transformed the Haute Couture industry with her avant-garde designs as she recreated the interaction between women and femininity, allure and spirit. She embodied a vision of a bright and vibrant Paris, and she was curious about everything, enjoying each novelty that came her way. The exhibition brings together 520 works including 272 silhouettes and accessories by Schiaparelli herself, displayed alongside iconic paintings, sculptures, jewellery, perfumes, ceramics, posters, and photographs by the likes of Schiaparelli’s dear friends and contemporary artists: Man Ray, Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau, Meret Oppenheim and Elsa Triolet.


Elsa Schiaparelli —
Evening gown
Summer 1939
Musée des Arts décoratifs © Les Arts Décoratifs / Christophe Dellière


The exhibition will also showcase creations designed in honour of Schiaparelli by fashion icons including Yves Saint Laurent, Azzedine Alaïa, John Galliano and Christian Lacroix. Daniel Roseberry, Artistic Director of the House of Schiaparelli since 2019, will interpret the heritage of Elsa Schiaparelli with a design of his own.


Jean Clément —
Golden metal
mounted on fabric
Musée des Arts décoratifs © Les Arts Décoratifs / Jean Tholance
© Adagp, Paris, 2022


Displayed on two levels the exhibition is organised both thematically and chronologically around key moments of the designer’s career, linking her most remarkable collections from year to year with the works of friends and contemporaries who inspired her fashion designs. The exhibition was curated by Nathalie Crinière and will be presented in the Christine & Stephen A. Schwarzman fashion galleries of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. It will showcase the close relationship between the worlds of fashion and art and how Elsa Schiaparelli was inspired by her deep fascination with artists and artwork. Elsa was not only a designer but an artist in her own right. She played with designs, creating artistic and bold pieces that were considered to be works of art in their own right.


The showcase begins with the introductory room, a vast and immersive space that is dedicated to the drawings of the couturière which number in their hundreds, conveying the extent of her work. The awakening of the artist in fashion and modernity is explored alongside the defining role that designer Paul Poiret played as a mentor in Schiaparelli’s life beginning in 1922.


Elsa Schiaparelli in collaboration with Salvador Dalí — Evening gown
© Philadelphia Museum of Art


Elsa Schiaparelli went on to design her trompe l’œil patterned sweaters which awakened her taste for Art Deco, particularly after her contact with Jean Dunand, who designed a refined dress with lacquer painted pleats for Schiaparelli. She also collaborated with several iconic artists such as Ela Triolet, Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dalí. Their surrealist aesthetic is reflected in her designs during this time as she developed her acute sense of detail, introducing new patterns and materials in transparent plastics, crawfish-shaped buttons, “drawer pockets,” and lobsters.


The exhibition continues with pieces dedicated to the designer’s Italian heritage, nature and music. The Pagan Collection gives a nod to Antiquity with references to Ovid’s metamorphoses while the Butterfly Collection is an ode to insects. The Music Collection features extended silhouettes, something that has come to be an instantly recognisable symbol of the brand.


Elsa Schiaparelli —
Evening coat
Winter 1938-1939
Wool, silk and china Musée des Arts décoratifs © Les Arts Décoratifs / Christophe Dellière


The second floor opens onto the reconstruction of Elsa Schiaparelli’s couture salons, then located at 21 Place Vendôme in Paris, which she inaugurated in 1935. The interiors were designed by Jean-Michel Frank, known for his sleek, ultra-chic and elegant lines. The perfume cage delicately showcases her original olfactory creations, including the legendary “Shocking” which became a worldwide success. Emphasis is also placed on the intricate and luxurious art of embroidery and Schiaparelli’s taste for the works of Maison Lesage, founded in 1924, who created bespoke embroideries for her and other important fashion houses and continues to do so.


Pieces from 1938 to 1939 include the “commedia dell’arte,” inspired by the characters of the colourful 18th-century Italian comedy. The Astrological Collection, which blends Baroque references linked to Versailles with the Sun King celebrating the 17th century, and lastly, the Circus Collection with its sumptuous boleros embroidered with horses, acrobats, and elephants. Pre-war designs show a rather narrow cigarette-like silhouette while post-war designs are looser and more constructed.


The journey through time ends with Daniel Roseberry’s exclusive silhouette created to translate the Surrealist inspiration of the fashion house’s founder.


Shocking! The surreal world of Elsa Schiaparelli is open for visitors from 6th July until January 22nd 2023.