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ABOUT THE DESIGNER:
Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the world’s leading fashion designers in the 1920s and ’30s.
Famed fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli was born on September 10, 1890, in Rome, Italy. After working at a boutique in New York, Schiaparelli moved to Paris, where she began designing her own clothes. Her work and sense of style shaped the look of fashion in the 1920s and ’30s, and her clothes were worn by some of the world’s most famous women, including American actress Greta Garbo. Schiaparelli died in Paris on November 13, 1973.
A pioneering Parisian fashion designer, Elsa Schiaparelli was born on September 10, 1890, in Rome, Italy. She was the great niece of Giovanni Schiaparelli, who discovered canals on the planet Mars.
Hailing from upscale stock, Schiaparelli, at a young age, seemed to be driven to upset her aristocratic mother and scholarly father. After high school, she enrolled at the University of Rome, where she studied philosophy, and soon published a book of poetry that was deemed so sensual by her parents that they directed her to a convent. To expedite her release from the convent, Schiaparelli went on a hunger strike; once released, she dashed off to London for a job as a nanny.
In London, Schiaparelli met and eventually married her former teacher, Count William de Wendt de Kerlor, who was a theosophist. The couple soon relocated to New York, where they had a daughter, Maria Luisa Yvonne Radha de Wendt de Kerlor.
New York proved to be an enlightening experience for Schiaparelli. There, she began working at a boutique specializing in French fashions, and soon cultivated her own taste in clothes and accessories. After her marriage failed, Schiaparelli returned to Paris, where she continued her work in the fashion industry. She soon began designing clothes of her own, and in 1927, opened her own business.
Schiaparelli’s debut collection, a series of sweaters featuring Surrealist “trompe l’oeil” images—which would come to serve as her trademark—caught the attention of the fashion world, including French Vogue. She followed her initial success with another well-received collection of bathing suits and ski-wear, as well as the “divided skirt”—an early form of women’s shorts. In 1931, Schiaparelli’s divided skirts were worn by tennis champion Lily d’Alvarez. That same year, “Shiap,” as she was known, expanded her work into evening-wear.