The Personal Collection of Elsa Schiaparelli - Paris, January 2014

Elsa Schiaparelli and Art

In her early New York days living with her little daughter Gogo in straightened circumstances in Greenwich Village, Elsa met and mixed socially with the avante garde artists surrounding the photographer Alfred Stieglitz and his 291 Gallery including Duchamp and Man Ray Artists played an important part in her life from then on, and subsequently in her couture. Members of the Dadaists such as Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Tristan Tzara and Man Ray all came to know her well and when she went to live in Paris Duchamp, already living there, made sure she re-met the group who often gathered for very late nights at Le Boeuf sur le Toit nightclub.

Gradually the Surrealist movement took over from Dadaism and, by the late twenties Elsa had come across Salvador Dali and his fierce wife Gala. She dressed Gala a l’oeil, that is to say, for free, as an advertisement, and when the Dalis went to America for the first time, Gala caused a sensation by walking down the gang plank to face the photographers wearing the lamb chop hat and the tailored suit with drawers for pockets.

In l936 Elsa looked to Leonor Fini, another card-carrying member of the surrealist group to paint a portrait of her daughter Gogo who stares, rather belligerently out of the canvas in a curiously conventional portrait.

Another close collaborator was that jack of all cultural and artistic trades, Jean Cocteau, who not only drew Elsa’s portrait looking pensive but also employed his considerable draughtsmanship to enhance and embellish her collections, of which the high spot, and much commented upon at the time, was the famous rough beige linen coat with two faces embroidered on the back in gold thread. These profiles looked at another way that could also be seen as an urn.

Another very close art partner was Marcel Vertes who painted a charming portrait of Elsa in oriental garb and also did all the lively gouache advertisements for her perfumes, notably ‘Shocking’. Just another way Elsa involved art and artists in all her doings.

This sale also contains a number of wonderful works by Christian Berard, that gad-fly of Parisian cultural and social life at the time. Set and costume designer, Berard also earned a living interpreting couture for magazines such as Vogue. Bearded, unkempt, often inebriated, a drug addict with a revolting pet dog, always late, Berard was one of the best fashion and most refined illustrators of an era during which fashion illustration was at its height. He captured the mood and wayward elegance of Schiaparelli’s clothes perfectly in very free and atmospheric ink and watercolour drawings. Another master draughtsman was Drian, whose fanciful watercolour ‘Cypress Woman’ captures the beauty and illogicality of surrealism with a few deft strokes; Drian’s free fashion illustrations in watercolour are also a notable feature of this sale.

From Fulco de Verdura the aristocratic jewellery designer who worked closely with Elsa Schiaparelli’s rival Chanel, comes a charming sketch of a piece of parsley on a bright red ground. A design for a jewel? A design for a dress? A thought for a hat? With Elsa Schiaparelli one never ever knew.

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