From the acclaimed author of Stuffed: an intimate, richly illustrated memoir, written with charm and panache, that juxtaposes two fascinating lives—the iconoclastic designer Elsa Schiaparelli and the author’s own mother—to explore how a girl fashions herself into a woman.
Audrey Morgen Volk, an upper-middle-class New Yorker, was a great beauty and the polished hostess at her family’s garment district restaurant. Elsa Schiaparelli—“Schiap”—the haute couture designer whose creations shocked the world, blurred the line between fashion and art, and believed that everything, even a button, has the potential to delight.
Audrey’s daughter Patricia read Schiap’s autobiography, Shocking Life, at a tender age, and was transformed by it. These two women—volatile, opinionated, and brilliant each in her own way—offered Patricia contrasting lessons about womanhood and personal style that allowed her to plot her own course.
Moving seamlessly between the Volks’ Manhattan and Florida milieux and Schiap’s life in Rome and Paris (among friends such as Dalí, Duchamp, and Picasso), Shocked weaves Audrey’s traditional notions of domesticity with Schiaparelli’s often outrageous ideas into a marvel-filled, meditation on beauty, and on being a daughter, sister, and mother, while demonstrating how a single book can change a life.
Volk (Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family) has a talent for unearthing meaning in the seemingly mundane. She works off the theory that everyone reads one influential book before puberty that leaves an indelible mark. Hers was outr fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli s memoir, Shocking Life, filched from a shelf before her voracious reader of a mother (who wore Schiaparelli perfume) could return it to the Upper West Side bookstore where she rented books. Volk also describes studying her own mother (deemed beautiful by everyone from the dentist to the hostess at Schrafft s) as if she were a text: watching her put on her makeup and dispense aphorisms ( Never let a man see you with cold cream on your face ); observing as she falls out and reunites with her four best friends; and then witnessing her mother s decline later in life ( Either she s getting shorter or I m getting taller ). This is no soft-focus hagiography, however. Volk is cheerfully honest about her mother s concern with what others think of her and her cruelty to her own mother, and she bluntly calls Schiaparelli a terrible mother. When Volk returns to Schiaparelli s memoir 57 years after her first read, she realizes that her 10-year-old self completely missed the woman s profound melancholia and suicidal tendencies. Including both personal photographs and depictions of Schiaparelli inventions, such as women s underpants that didn t require ironing, this memoir is a compelling tribute to two ambitious women who were way ahead of their time.