A legendary name

Bringing Schiaparelli Back to Life

Susana Ramudo

The Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, Daisy Fellowes, Mae West and Joan Crawford were some of Schiaparelli’s greatest admirers.


In 2006, Tod’s Diego Della Valle, Hogan and Roger Vivier, plus a group of other investors, bought the Schiaparelli fashion label, hoping to revive the legendary name and bring a Parisian myth back to life.

Della Valle considered it essential to recover the building at 21 Place Vandome, where Elsa Schiaparelli had her atelier, studio and shop. He bought the landmark in 2011 after several attempts, and opened it to the public in July of 2012. Schiaparelli personally supervised and conducted fittings for her most exclusive clients from the third floor of that building. Today the space has been reclaimed as a lounge, decorated in high surrealist style, her favorite.

ELSA SCHIAPARELL, by George Hoynignen-Huene, 1932.

Schiap, as everyone called her, was an Italian aristocrat that enjoyed a life of freedom, always indifferent to the rules and canons of her time. She was a great friend and admirer of artists of her day, like Dali, Man Ray, Giacometti, Leonor Fini, Meret Oppenheim and Jean Cocteau.

Elsa Schiaparelli was born on September 10, 1890 in Rome’s Palazzo Corsini, her family’s residence. Her parents belonged to the Neapolitan aristocracy, and her grandfather was the renowned astronomer, Giovanni Schiaparelli.

She led a very privileged life, living between New York, London and Paris, where she began to make her own clothes. Always ahead of her time, she was a true visionary, and her home was a laboratory for creative ideas. There she conceived styles that made history, such as her shoe hat or the famous Lobster-dress. Her perfumes were sold in flasks of unprecedented originality. The bottle for “Shocking”, created in 1936, replicated Mae West´s curves.

The multitalented Schiaparelli was able to design dazzling evening gowns or simple dresses with the same mastery and meticulous technique. The Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, Daisy Fellowes, Mae West and Joan Crawford were some of her greatest admirers.

Gallery views of the exhibition Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations at The Met.

She was forced to close her couture house in the 50s because her style was misunderstood, forward looking, and did not fit the tastes of the times. She died in her beloved Paris on November 13, 1973, leaving behind an important fashion legacy built around surrealism: full of movement, color, and masterful combinations of shapes and textures.

Della Valle faced a wall in his attempt to revive the Maison. Young people were not familiar with the work of Elsa Schiaparelli, in marked contrast with the designer’s esteemed reputation within fashion circles. Her firm has been highly praised by a long list of acclaimed designers, starting with Yves Saint Laurent.

In his bid to revitalize the firm, Della Valle chose Farida Khelfa as brand ambassador, following the advice of his close friend, Inés de la Fressange. Former model, muse of Jean Paul Gautier and Alaia, Farida Khelfa is considered one of the most elegant women in France, and her intimate circle of friends includes Carla Bruni Sarkozy, Elle Macpherson, Arielle Dombasle and Inés de la Fressange. She was a close friend of Christian Louboutin before he became an internationally renowned shoemaker. In September 2012, Khelfa married millionaire Henri Seydoux, after living together for more than twenty years. The couple now has two children.

Farida Khelfa and Jean Paul Gaultier.

Two magnificent exhibitions in 2004, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Musee de la Mode in Paris, and more recently, in 2012, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City have been instrumental in bringing back the memory of the Italian designer. The Metropolitan’s opus Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, explored the reciprocity between Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada, two Italian designers from different eras, but with many points in common.

Della Valle has not yet found a new creative director for the House, someone who will interpret the world of Elsa Schiaparelli for a saturated fashion market. There are some names in the short list, like Erdem Moralioglu or Nicolás Ghesquière, but truth is nothing has been confirmed. What is known is that Christian Lacroix is designing a new haute couture collection for the brand, the first since its shuttering in 1954. The capsule collection, a tribute to Elsa Schiaparelli, will debut this July at Couture Week in Paris.


Elsa Schiaparell. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Gallery views. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Farida Khelfa and Jean Paul Gaultier. Larry Busacca. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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