The first biography of the grand couturier, surrealist, and embattled figure (her medium was apparel), whose extraordinary work has stood the test of time.
Her style was a social revolution through clothing-luxurious, eccentric, ironic, sexy; synonymous with fashion innovation and chicesse. She was audacious; her fashions were inspired from the whimsical to the most practical-from a Venetian cape of the commedia dell'arte to a Soviet parachute. She collaborated on her designs with some of the greatest artists of the twentieth-century: on jewelry with Jean Schlumberger; on clothes with Salvador Dalí; with Jean Cocteau, Alberto Giacometti; with photographers Man Ray, Horst, Cecil Beaton, and the young Richard Avedon. Her name: Elsa Schiaparelli. She was known as the Queen of Fashion; a headline attraction in the international glitter-glamour show of the late twenties and thirties; she gave fabulous parties-and went to those given by others; she lived and worked seriously and hard in much-photographed residences and was a guest at others; she knew the "everybodies" who were always "there" and inevitably became one of them herself, feted in Rome (where she was born), Paris, New York, London, Moscow, Dallas, Hollywood, Dublin. Now, Meryle Secrest, acclaimed biographer-whose work has been called "enthralling" (WSJ); "captivating" (WP Book World); "Rich in detail, scrupulously researched, sympathetically written" (NYRB), and who has captured the lives of many of the twentieth-century's most iconic, cultural figures, among them: Frank Lloyd Wright, Bernard Berenson, Leonard Bernstein, Duveen; Richard Rodgers; Modigliani; Stephen Sondheim-gives us the never-before-told story of this most extraordinary fashion designer, perhaps the most extraordinary fashion designer of the twentieth-century, who in her time was more famous than Chanel.
"This book had its start when I began to wonder why nobody dressed up any more, even for evenings out," writes Secrest. Although she never answers her question, this consummate biographer (Leonard Bernstein: A Life) does take readers on a breathless, madcap ride across the early 20th century. The book follows Schiaparelli from her meteoric rise to couture queen of 1930s Paris to her fizzling postwar descent into bankruptcy. It begins with the image of the child Schiaparelli running through the Italian palazzo where she grew up, and ends, no less evocatively, by musing on what passed through the designer's mind as she sat on the terrace of her Tunisian getaway in her later years. In between, Secrest draws on the interviews and writings of Schiaparelli's friends, family, and colleagues; biographers and historians of the period; public records from ship manifests and visas to FBI documents; Schiaparelli's 1954 memoir, Shocking Life; and Secrest's own speculative imagination. The result paints an alternately exhilarating, sympathetic, slyly humorous, and poignant portrait, not only of the surrealism-influenced, innovative fashion designer who invented wraparound dresses, built-in bras, falsies, and shocking pink, but also of the creative cauldron of Paris in its golden age between the two world wars.
wonderful historical fashion writing that keeps you interested not only in the progression of fashion, but in the life of elsa.