Fashion and Surrealism-Schiaparelli Exhibit at the Dali Museum



Schiaparelli lobster dress

Finally got around to editing the photos of my recent visit to the Schiaparelli fashion exhibit at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.  And let me tell you, it was a sight to behold! Even if you aren’t into Surrealism or abstract art of any kind, the incredible details of the clothing and the exquisite fabrics would still impress.

If you’ve never heard of Elsa Schiaparelli or are not familar with her designs, I’m sure you are familiar with the quote “Dare to be different.”  That was one of her most famous pieces of advice to women on dressing themselves.

Her designs were heavily influenced by Surrealist art. Back in the 1930s she often collaborated with Salvadore Dali and other surrealist artists to create and elevate fashion to a level of avante garde glamour never seen before. A pioneer of what we now refer to as “wearable art”,  she brilliantly straddled the line between eccentricity and practicality.

She was responsible for many firsts in the fashion world.  She invented culottes. Was the first woman designer to make the cover of Time Magazine. The first woman to experiment with synthetic materials in couture, first to offer “ready to wear” fashion, first to design a jumpsuit,  first to set a fashion show to music.

Yves St Laurent aptly described Schiaparelli’s influence on the fashion scene back in the 20s and 30s.  “She slapped Paris. She smacked it. She tortured it. She bewitched it. And it fell madly in love with her.”

These first two look like designs that could have influenced the more recent punk and gothic fashion movements.

The Tears dress done in a trompe l’oeil effect print was inspired by Dali’s painting “Three young surrealist women holding in their arms the skin of an orchestra.” 

Schiaparelli tear dress 1938

One of Schiaparelli’s and Dali’s more famous designs, the “Tears ” dress done in silk crepe. 1938.


Below is a detailed view from the painting.


In 1938 Dali offered Schiaparelli a drawing representing the female skeleton. Along with the drawing came a note that stated “I like the idea of bones on the outside enormously.”  This is the design that resulted from his suggestion.

Schiaparelli skeleton dress 1938

This lavender evening coat was inspired by a drawing given to Elsa by artist Jean Cocteau. An optical illusion, it depicts either two faces in profile or a vase of pink roses, depending how you look at it.


Schiaparelli lavender silk optical illusion coat-1937

Schiaparelli lavender silk optical illusion coat-1937.


Schiaparelli actually wore this jacket on her US lecture tour in 1940. The “Cash and Carry” jacket was supposed to replace a purse.

Schaiparelli gold embroidered dinner jacket.

Schiaparelli gold embroidered rayon crepe dinner jacket. 1940.

Even when designing basic black pieces, she had to add a touch of whimsy.  Notice the unusual mask buttons.

Schiaparelli dinner jacket 1939

Schiaparelli black wool knit dinner jacket with rayon velvet appliques. 1939.

One of Schiaparilli’s signature symbols was the butterfly because it signified metamorphosis, the changing from plain to beautiful, from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

I was surprised when I saw the date for this design, as it really has the look of a late 40s,  early 50s style.

Schiaparelli butterfly dress

Silk organza Papillon dress. 1937

Another infamous design, influenced by Dali’s incorporation of the lobster into many of his works, one of which is posted below.

The dress was worn by Wallis Simpson, right before her marriage to the Duke of Windsor.  Cecil Beaton photographed her wearing it in the garden at Chateau de Cande.

Schiaparelli lobster dress

Silk organza lobster dress. 1937.


Dali lobster phone

Dali lobster phone

Salvatore Dali had a fascination with Mae West, resulting in a sofa inspired by her lips. And Schiaparelli  created a perfume called “Shocking” in a curvy bottle in honor of her voluptuous figure.  Allegedly that’s the word she exclaimed when she received a dress form from the actress that was created to her exact measurements.  The color “shocking pink” also derives from Schiaparelli.  The same year as her perfume launched, her clothing collection included many pieces in what has become known as her signature shade.

Dali Lips sofa

Dali Lips sofa and advertisement for Schiaparelli’s Shocking perfume inspired by Mae West’s figure.


Schiaparelli rayon floss coat

Ombre rayon floss and silk chiffon “Angel hair” coat. 1953

And there’s the wacky shoe hat.  Apparently the idea came from the photograph below of Dali, himself, wearing a shoe on his head.

Schiaparelli shoe hat


While perusing all these unconventional fashions, all I could think of is how much fun these two would have been at a party!

Schiaparelli closed her couture house in 1954.  But it was reopened in 2012. And in 2015 Bertrand Guyon was appointed design director.  Below are some of his designs from recent collections.  As you can see he’s carrying on the traditions of Elsa, with the incredible detail work and beautiful prints, yet in his own modern interpretations.

One of the reasons I love fashion exhibitions like this, beside the history, is being able to observe up close the amazing  workmanship that goes into couture design.  If you click on the images below you can see magnified detail of these artful pieces.


Till next time……






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By | 2018-01-26T21:13:10-04:00 January 24th, 2018|Fashion|2 Comments

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  1. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell January 25, 2018 at 8:54 am

    Yes, she was definitely ahead of her time. And the current collections was so impressive. I especially loved the dress decorated with pieces of leather. The intricacy of the design was such a treat to view up close.

  2. Avatar
    Suzanne January 24, 2018 at 8:50 pm

    Thanks for taking us along on your visit.

    I would have loved to have seen this. I’m a huge fan of wearable art.

    Right away I was struck how contemporary so many of the pieces were.

    It’s incredible that they have reopened the brand.

    Loved this!


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