Elsa Schiaparelli (10 September 1890 - 13 November 1973) was an eccentric Italian fashion designer. Rivaling Coco Chanel in designing women's fashions during The Roaring '20s, The Great Depression, and The '40s, Schiaparelli's trademark designs include influences of surrealism and vivace in contrast to Chanel's "elegance in simplicity" philosophy.
Being born to well-to-do parents in Italy, and the niece to astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, who discovered the ''canali'' of Mars, Elsa has had a vivid imagination with a rebellious streak as a child. At age 22, she set off on her own to places like London, New York, and Paris, working on menial jobs, running away from suitors, and getting dumped by her husband along the way.
At Paris, with only a few pennies and a little help from her artist friends and Paul Poiret himself, she managed to start her clothing business, which flopped despite favorable reviews. Nevertheless, she pressed on making more clothing, mostly knitwear, until she got her big break in 1927 when Vogue featured her designs of sweaters with weaved imitation bows and collars.
By the 1930s, she had reopened her fashion house, added sportswear and evening wear to her collections, dabbled on with Surrealism, and had collaborated with prominent Surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí (who both made the "Lobster Dress", "Tears Dress", and the "Shoe Hat") and Jean Cocteau. Her vibrant experimental portfolio included poofy bustles in dresses, making buttons with wacky designs sheer scarves, unorthodox stitching, circus-inspired coats, making prints like animal prints and imitation rips, and popularizing hot pink, which she called " Shocking Pink". She also made her Shocking! parfum competing against Chanel's Number 5 and Jean Patou's "Joy".
Schiap's crazy concepts seemed limitless, but during World War II, Schiap closed her shop and moved to New York for the duration of the war. By the time she relaunched her couture house after the war, she had a tough time competing against Christian Dior's "New Look" and Chanel's reopening of her couture house. In 1954, Schiap closed shop for good, wrote her autobiography "A Shocking Life" and retired from designing. Her couture house won't reopen years after her death in 1973.
Despite being overshadowed by Chanel and other fashion designers, Schiap's legacy consisted of her innovative quick thinking, avant-garde attitude, and "anything goes" gesture, she was the few designers to test then-new manmade fabric materials, a pioneer on using zippers on clothes, and applied contrasting colours unusual and unfamiliar at the time. Her family such as her granddaughter, model Marisa Berenson is continuing the Schiaparelli legacy, collaborating with Hubert De Givenchy to publish a book containing her grandmother's personal archives.