Fashion’s Forgotten Face

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“Women dress alike all over the world: They dress to be annoying to other women.” -Elsa Schiaparelli

When thinking of rivals for Chanel, perhaps the world’s best known fashion houses, names like Dior, Vuitton and Hermès come to mind. It wasn’t always this way, though. During the pinnacle of her career, Chanel, herself, had one enemy on her mind: Elsa Schiaparelli (pronounced Skap-are-elli), a name most people today have never heard.

Chanel and Schiaparelli, or as she was called by her friends, Schiap, couldn’t have been more different. Schiaparelli was in 1890 in Rome. She came from a wealthy family, but longed for adventure more than marriage. She arrived in Paris in 1922, and struggled until 1927. That was when she released her Trompe L’oeil (optical illusion) sweater, which was a sweater with a sailor’s tie knit into it. American Vogue, the very magazine that helped launch Chanel’s career, called it an “artistic masterpiece.” However dissimilar the two were, the 1930s Paris fashion scene couldn’t get enough of either of them.

While Chanel prided herself on her craftsmanship, Schiap was better known for inspired designs, such as the shoe hat and lobster printed dress. Chanel brought elegant simplicity and countless innovations to haute couture, while Schiaparelli invented the thought that even high fashion should be fun and playful. By 1934, it was thought that women who wore Chanel were dull, and afraid of making a fashion faux pas. On the other hand, women who wore Schiaparelli were confident and individual. So, why does Chanel’s official Instagram boast 8.7 million followers, whereas Schiaparelli’s has a mere 22.8 thousand?

The answer lies in the year 1954. Chanel had been shunned by the fashion world since she had been caught, literally, sleeping with the enemy during World War II. Schiap had escaped the German-occupied Paris, and gone to New York, but moved back to Paris by the end of the war. By the early 1950s, the world was less than interested in her lighthearted collections. In 1954, Schiaparelli closed her house, and that same year, Chanel reopened hers.

November 13th marked the 42nd anniversary of Elsa Schiaparelli’s death. It’s true that today she isn’t considered a legend, and isn’t famous in the slightest. It’s true that our rivals motivate us to do our best, and it’s true without Schiaparelli, Chanel wouldn’t have made her 1954 comeback. Doesn’t Schiap deserve a little recognition for that?

Katie Schupp ’18

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1 Comment

  1. Kirsten Detrick on

    Elsa Schiaparelli was an amazingly talented designer with an incredible sense of the moment. Those who know her designs know how incredible she was. Coco was truly amazing too…but isn’t there room for more than 1…or 2…female fashion designers in the history books? I sure hope so and love that you are shedding light on this issue, Katie!

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