November 20, 2015
BY STUART MESIRES
I recently returned from a trip to Paris where I had the opportunity to visit Maison Schiaparelli at 21 Place Vendôme — the Elsa Schiaparelli boutique. It was opened in 1935 and closed in 1954, but it was reopened in 2012, in the exact location where the original boutique had been. As a huge fan and collector of vintage Schiaparelli, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to see where it had all started and to get a glimpse of the new collections.
Elsa Schiaparelli (1890–1973) was an Italian-born French designer. She and her rival, Coco Chanel, were regarded as the most prominent figures in fashion in the period between the two World Wars. Schiaparelli’s designs were worn by society ladies and Hollywood actresses. Her clients included the Duchess of Windsor, Daisy Fellowes, Marlene Dietrich, Lauren Bacall, Millicent Rogers, and Mae West.
Schiaparelli defied the convention of her time by pursuing a more idiosyncratic style of fashion. She considered fashion to be art and was known to be as much of an artist as she was a dress designer. Schiaparelli often collaborated with the Surrealist artists of the 1930s, such as Salvador Dali, Man Ray, and Jean Cocteau. Her longtime admirer Yves Saint Laurent once described her as “The fiery Italian intellectual who introduced the world of Dadaist and Surrealist art to the world of fashion.”
Schiaparelli opened her salon in 1935. The interiors were originally designed by her friend Jean-Michel Frank, who also designed the Paris salon of Chicago-born designer, Mainbocher, on the Avenue George V. Notably, Mainbocher was the first American to open a couture house in Paris.
The ground floor of 21 Place Vendôme was used as a boutique. It was called the “Schiap Shop.” One entered the perfume section of the shop through a black and gold bamboo birdcage designed by Frank in 1937. In later years, the birdcage was sold to a private collector, but the Maison Schiaparelli was recently able to reacquire it. It is now located on the fourth floor of the building where the collections are shown.
Currently, over the fireplace in the boutique’s second floor salon, there is a collage that was designed for the Schiap Shop by Marcel Vertès in 1953. The collage is made up of images cut from fashion magazines of Schiaparelli’s most significant designs. The images are incorporated into a surreal landscape of dinosaurs and butterflies.
Throughout the boutique, there are many examples of Schiaparelli’s artist collaborations: glasses designed by Man Ray in the 1930s; a powder compact from 1935 designed in the shape of a phone dial by Dali; and a dress from Schiaparelli’s famous 1938 circus collection made out of fabric printed with a design by Vertès.
In Chicago, we are lucky to have an amazing example of an artistic collaboration between Schiaparelli and Cocteau housed at the Chicago History Museum. It is a very rare silk crepe dress, jacket and belt ensemble from 1937 — only three examples are known to exist. Cocteau created the design on the jacket that was then beaded and embroidered by the House of Lesage. The design features a woman’s head in profile. Her long, golden hair flows down the full length of the right sleeve, and her hand is holding a bundle of silver-colored ribbons. Just below the woman’s arm, the word “Jean” and a star are embroidered in pink thread. The ensemble was once owned by Chicago resident Elizabeth Fuller Goodspeed (1893–1980), known to her friends as Bobsy.
Goodspeed was at the heart of Chicago’s social and cultural scenes and was married to Charles Barney Goodspeed, a member of a prominent Chicago family. She was a patron of the arts, the President of the Arts Club of Chicago (1932 –1940), a writer and amateur filmmaker. Goodspeed often made trips to Paris, where she spent time with notable artists, writers, dancers and gallery owners. It was there that she met and became friends with Gertrude Stein, who then visited Goodspeed in Chicago in 1934. It was Stein’s first trip to our city, spawning her strong relationship with Chicago.
Even though the Schiaparelli line has been relaunched and is now being designed by Bertrand Guyon, the house is still looking back to Schiaparelli’s philosophy of art as fashion and the influence of artists on fashion. Here, we can see another Chicago connection. In the Schiaparelli Fall 2015 collection, colorful pieced fur jackets were featured on the runway. According to Vogue’s Dan Thawley, these jackets were inspired by Chicago artist Nick Cave’s Soundsuits.
I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same!