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Elsa Schiaparelli was born in Rome
in 1890 to wealthy family. She was
rebellious from an early age and once
attended a ball wrapped simply in a
length of fabric that unwound as the
night went on, bringing shame and
scandal to her family. She married William
de Wendt and had a daughter, however
the marriage did not last leaving her a
single mother. She had a passion for
the arts and fashion, and determined to
suceed independently, she moved to Paris in
the 1920's. Here she met top designer Paul Poiret who introduced her to the world
of artistry. She became friends with Surrealist Salvidor Dali, and became the arch
rival of Coco Chanel. Top Left: Schiaparelli maltese cross crystal brooch
Similar to Chanel she believed in costume jewellery as an art form (not
dependant on the value of materials used), and an important part of fashion,
but this is where the similarities ended. Her work was often compared to the
elegant designs of Chanel but there was a difference. Schiaparelli's early designs
showed whimisial themes. She took inspiration from butterflies, musical instruments,
Paganism, and African iconography and featured astrological or circus motifs.
She also used natural forms and stylised them, or selected unusual floral or faunal
forms such as a pea pod pendant , or a clear plastic necklace printed with insects.
Schiapparelli channeled the ethos of Surrealism and Dadaism in her work. This was
displayed in her shocking pink collection of 1936 incuding her "Shocking" perfume and
Her jewellery often used bright exotic stones in vibrant shocking pink, and this became
her signature colour moving forward. Her jewellery received acclaim from her Surrealist
circle including Jean Cocteau, Dali and fashion designer Christian Bernard. She strived to
provide an alternative to the contemporary fashion of the day.
Below: 1950's Watermelon and tourmaline crystal parure and and faux pearl crystal brooch
After fleeing to New York during the second world war, she returned to Paris in 1945 but found that
it had changed. In 1949 she established a ready to wear outlet in New York and licensed De Rosa
to make her jewellery. She returned to the United States in 1954 after closing her French fashion
house leaving behind her assistants Pierre Cardin and Hubert De Givenchy.
In New York in the 1950's Schiaparelli created abstract or floral designs with unusual and highly coloured
iridescent paste stones and glass, She used incredibly fake pinks and oranges studed with rhinestone crystals.
Charm bracelets were in vogue at the time thanks to Grace Kelly and Schiaparelli made some of the best.
Elsa Schiaparelli's jewellery line stopped production in the late 1950's and she died in 1973. Examples of
her Parisien work from 1930's are rare, and those that do exist are generally museum quality pieces fetching
large sums of money. Pieces from the 1940's and 50's are more commonly found today and collectors look
for work with frosted glass leaves, strangely coloured pearls set as grapes and jagged "ice" glass.
Most of the work done by Schiaparelli in France is unsigned, although certain items are marked with
"Schiaparelli" in block letters on a rectangular plate. The majority of her later French work and all American
pieces are signed "Schiaparelli" in script.