Wednesday, February 19, 2014

History's Runway: The Duchess of Devonshire's Schiaparelli Gown, 1953

Elsa Schiaparelli, 1953
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Celebrated designer Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was born in Rome and, as a young woman, studied philosophy. After she married, she traveled to Boston and New York, moving to Paris in 1920.

The design which first cast the spotlight on Schiaparelli was a black sweater knitted with a trompe l'œil bow in white. The sweater was spotted by a store buyer and the orders she received put her into business. By 1928 she had launched her own boutique called Pour le Sport. An exclusive salon would open a year later where Schiaparelli garnered much acclaim and attention for her witty, smart, sophisticated, theatrical and elegant evening ensembles. Her eccentric designs earned her many loyal fans, among them, a good many popular artists. Many of these artists collaborated with Schiaparelli to create sumptuous, innovative new looks. Among these artists were Salvador Dalí, Christian Bérard and Jean Cocteau who each designed fabrics and accessories for her lines. Cubism and Surrealism influenced Schiaparelli's work considerably. She also loved to experiment with color, dying furs and textiles unusual colors. She favored shocking pink--like the gown we see here.

This dress from the Summer of 1953 was worn by the Duchess of Devonshire and now is part of the Cecil Beaton Collection at the V&A. The under dress of her trademark pink is crafted of Thai silk. It features short sleeves and a pleated off-the-shoulder neckline with a dropped waist and flared skirt with an over-lain white silk organza pattern of apple blossom embroidered in pink, green, yellow and white on velveteen appliqué. 

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