Born in Rome, Italy, in 1890, Elsa Schiaparelli was the daughter of an aristocrat, on her mother’s side, and her father, Celestino Schiaparelli was the Dean of the University of Rome, and curator of medieval manuscripts.
Elsa drew a lot of inspiration from her father and the world of fantasy that she discovered through his books. However, it was her grandfather, Giovanni Schiaparelli, a famous astrologer, who was arguably one of the strongest influences on her designs. Elsa could not resist the allure of the cosmos. This led her straight into the world of surrealism and a life long obsession with this daring art movement.
In her long reign as one of the 20th Century’s most influential and daring designers who worked in Paris at the same time as Coco Chanel, Schiaparelli differentiated herself from other designers by collaborating closely with two of the world’s most famous surrealist artists: Salvador Dali and Alberto Giacometti.
Her design liaison with Dali gave birth to the infamous shoe hat and a large number of other surrealist creations. These designs rejected the status, convention and propriety that had been awarded to hats at this time and her jewellery designs were no different.
While the House of Schiaparelli thrived for more than 40 years it was forced into closure in the 1970s when the world of fashion turned its back on the glamorous fashion of the previous decades.
In 2013, the luxury Italian fashion house Tods, purchased her original premises and re-launched the Schiaparelli brand, hiring the flamboyant Christian Lacroix as the head designer.
Schiaparelli began jewellery design early on in her career, which also pushed the boundaries of convention into the world of illusion and the surreal.
One of her most famous jewellery pieces, bugs set in clear resin and designed to look as if the bugs are crawling on the skin, recently sold at auction in New York for over $30,000. This piece, from her Fall 1938 pagan collection, flaunted the surrealist ideal of fantasy and deception.
When introducing jewellery into her Paris design house, Schiaparelli professed that modern jewellery had gone “flat” and could only be revitalised by combining semi-precious stones with precious ones.
High-quality rhinestones are signatures of hers but these can easily be paired with resin, china, porcelain, aluminium, plain glass, crystal, plexi-glass and plastics.
It is unsurprising that one of Schiaparelli’s favourite materials is the aurora borealis (AB) stone. This stone is named after the Northern Lights phenomenon, or the Aurora Borealis, as the AB coating can generate the same radiant range of colours. Her committed use of these stones simply made all her designs closer to the surrealism of the cosmos and heavens. Some have even claimed that this glow, the colours bouncing off each other like candlelight, reminded customers of the splendour of the 18th century.
Initially, Schaiparelli’s jewellery emerged following her fascination with African culture, after she attended the French Colonial Art Exhibition of 1922. This exposed her to the eroticism of African sculpture, which she adapted into her sweaters. However, she also used this as background for barbaric accessories. Her first barbaric range, put out in the 1920s, even incorporated horsehair into the design. These striking ideas never faded from any Schiaparelli design.
Her brilliance was in her ability to revitalise and revolutionise jewellery at a depressive time in history. In Schiaparelli’s glory years, between World War I and II, Europe was gripped in depression, poverty, and desperately wanted to regain the glory they felt in the 18th and 19th centuries. Schiaparelli was able to stimulate the creativity of her patrons, to make them feel closer to the time of luxury, grandeur and pride.
Empress Marlene has been an avid and passionate collector of Schiaparelli’s jewellery for many years and is pleased to offer some of our most extraordinary pieces for sale.