Elsa Schiaparelli: A Biography

Meryle Secrest
Fig Tree, £25;
ebook, £13.99

Italian Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was one of the most successful dress designers of the 20th century. Her colourful life story is vividly described in this entertaining book by prolific biographer, Meryle Secrest.

Schiaparelli’s heyday was in the 1920s and ’30s. During the Second World War, she fled from her home in Paris to New York, and stayed there until liberation in 1944. Her designs were influenced by surrealism, the new art form that surfaced after the First World War, and she collaborated with artists such as Salvador Dali and Man Ray.

With surrealism’s emphasis on dreams, the unconscious and the irrational, Schiaparelli made hats that looked like shoes or lamb cutlets, and bizarrely decorated dresses, but her bold and eye-catching designs were also stylish, practical and popular. Her fashion house, which opened in Paris in 1927, closed in 1954, because ‘surrealist’ clothes were no longer in vogue. She ended her days well-off financially and still feisty.


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