Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Piece Effort

Elsa Schiaparelli

Elsa SchiaparelliElsa Schiaparelli

Elsa Schiaparelli (French, born Italy, 1890–1973). Coat, spring 1939. Multicolored pieced felted wool. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Ruth Ford, 2002 (2002.479.4).

Society beauty and actress Ruth Ford was a favorite model for photographers from Cecil Beaton to George Platt Lynes. In the late 1930s the great British eccentric and Surrealist aficionado Edward James introduced her to Elsa Schiaparelli. Miss Ford selected several audacious and iconic examples of the designer’s oeuvre—for example, the notorious “Skeleton” gown now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. That dress of black chiffon-weight Racine jersey is embellished with a trapunto, or padded, outline of a skeleton. On the wearer, the dress has the astonishing effect of a thinly veiled nude body with a cadaverous relief.

In this coat, from Schiaparelli’s spring 1939 collection entitled “A Modern Comedy,” the designer’s reference is to the eighteenth-century commedia dell’arte. In a collection that featured bright satin jackets in vivid colors called Pierrot blue, Tabarin red, Mezzitin pink, Capitan yellow, and Pulcinella green, Schiaparelli merged the material and techniques of folk dress with the iconography of carnival and masquerade. With apparent disregard for the dark political environment immediately preceding World War II, the designer created works of antic diversion and superficial gaiety.

Comments (61)

  1. Lori Ettlinger Gross Says:

    The cavalier liveliness of this coat may belie the prevalent and somber anxieties of the pre-war years, but then that is the brilliance of it too. A clown is never more poignant than when the humor he projects is underscored (or counterbalanced by) profound sorrow. This could very well be the meaning behind the frivolity of this garment and one that Schiaparelli, who it is my understanding, was well acquainted with the dark side of reality as well as the irony of surrealism. She used these motifs in her work rather strategically, at least marketing-wise. However, it is a nice footnote that, to this day, the attention she receives for her strong perspectives are often judged by an artistic standard as well as a sartorial one.

  2. Laurie Aron Says:

    Yes, I’m quite sure Schiaparelli was fully acquainted with the dark side of life in that era. She did leave Paris, I believe, for New York? Didn’t she have her surrealist hats photographed for Bazaar with other artist-escapees?

    Anyway, what struck me about this garment was that the felted wool is such a dominating textile, that the coat rather wears the wearer than the reverse. In that sense, it’s a metaphor for losing control.

  3. marina urbach Says:

    “With apparent disregard for the dark political environment immediately preceding World War II, the designer created works of antic diversion and superficial gaiety.”
    In a way we are revisiting the same pattern: here we are at the verge of World War III, oblivious, indeed creating works of superficial diversion.

  4. M@rion Says:

    Quelle idee geniale de creer un blog pour une exposition et de pouvoir donner ces propres commentaires a chaud !!! c est EXCELLENT !!!! TRES BONNE COM’ !!

  5. c willow Says:

    The craftsmanship looks incrdible but its not memorable besides the fact that its super bright. It looks like folk blanket/high fashion

  6. marina urbach Says:

    “Quelle idee geniale de creer un blog pour une exposition et de pouvoir donner ces propres commentaires a chaud ! c est EXCELLENT ! TRES BONNE COM’ !”
    D’accord, c’est une idee geniale et democratique. Le internet a change tout, meme le processus de la creation artistique.

  7. marina urbach Says:

    There is more than just craftsmanship in this coat! “Schiaparelli merged the material and techniques of folk dress with the iconography of carnival and masquerade.” The colors that Pierrot and Pulcinella wear are present in Schiaparelli’s coat. I agree: “A clown is never more poignant than when the humor he projects is underscored by profound sorrow.”

  8. Anne Says:

    This coat is amazing; I can’t imagine wearing it on New York streets!

  9. Laurie Aron Says:

    Tout le monde peut parler sur les vetements, mais tout le monde ne peut pas acheter les vetements. Ce n’est pas democratique, ou, peut-etre, egalite.

    Aussi, je pense que la mode est toujours un divertissement, avant la guerre (les 80s LaCroix) et apres la guerre (Dior), meme pendant la guerre, par example les chaussures de liege ou les lignes d’encre au lieu de les bas pendant la Grande Guerre II.

    Also, I agree with c willow that the garment looks more like a folk garment than high fashion.

  10. marina urbach Says:

    “c’est une idee geniale et democratique” I was referring to the possibility
    to participate in this blog, not to the expensive garments! Oui democratique et egalitaire.

  11. Laurie Aron Says:

    I know you mean that the participation is democratic. I’m just pointing out the irony of the inaccessibility of garments of this kind to most people. I guess that’s one good reason for treating them as Art. After all, how many people can own a Manet?

    Also, on fashion and war, to me, as I said, I think fashion is always meant to be frivolous and diverting, but the real connection (highly scientific, of course) is between, of course, hemlines and the stock market! The 20s, of course, and the 60s and the go-go years, the 80s. Minis mean a rise in stock prices, which has also held true for the first few years of this century. But now, even as Balenciaga is showing micro-minis, I notice Vogue at least twice has pointed out the odd mid-calf skirt as the coming thing, so I guess it’s really the fashion EDITORS that decide when we’re to have a recession!

  12. SSCOTT KING Says:

    I really like the fabric for this dress!

  13. marina urbach Says:

    “…so I guess it’s really the fashion EDITORS that decide when we’re to have a recession!” It is all interconnected: the fashion editors promote trends that generate a market for the mass produced goods, create a need, ” must have” kind of approach, the stock market is connected to all the other markets, the stock market crashes when it discovers that the emperor has no clothes.
    “After all, how many people can own a Manet?” I started collecting pieces of Rei Kawakubo when I was working, on a very, very meager salary at The Museum of Modern Art. I acquired them with the feeling that they were “works of art”. Some time ago, in the summer, I do not remember the year, I got two beautiful outrageous hats from Stephen Jones, that he had done for Rei Kabakubo’s summer collection. I got them, at the end of the season, “on sale”, I guess I was lucky. Not all designers are artists. Very few garments or accessories can be considered art. Most of the designers in this exhibition are artists. They respond to the same kind of creative impulse.

  14. Antonia Alkan Says:

    I am a friend of Schiaparelli since I got a miniature of her “shocking You” Eau de Toilette by the age of about 5!
    I love her kind of Design: She is magnifique!

  15. Antonia Alkan Says:

    I submit.

  16. Gloria Says:

    As a quilter, I can appreciate the subtle sizing gradations of the squares from top to bottom, as well as the practicality Chanel took for machine work The creativity is no less beautiful when done by machine –perhaps more so because the slowness of hand-work may cause a lapse of purpose in design — “what was I going to do next?” Machine work can be as quickly as your brain thinks.

  17. Laurie Aron Says:

    Marina, I WAS joking! But since you’re taking me seriously, I will tell you in all seriousness that I would have given up all my fall clothes for Galliano’s own Fall 2007 collection, the entire defile with the exception of some of the more transparent black numbers. In reality, I don’t invest in designer pieces. I like clothes, but I’m a collage artist. I like putting the pieces together to create the whole artwork myself, whether the skirt’s the one my mother wore in the 50s, the shoes are new from Payless, the blouse from Anthropologie and the jacket is 1980 Liz Claiborne which I’ve managed to keep since I was a senior in college. It’s a look, somewhat variable by season, but a thought-through predecided look, with all purchases supporting it, and I don’t spend a lot.

    So do you wear your collectible acquisitions, or do you preserve them as art?

  18. marina urbach Says:

    “I like putting the pieces together to create the whole artwork myself” This is the creative way to go. ” Designer” clothes in themselves do not mean much. What counts is “to find your own voice”, as our friend said recently.
    “So do you wear your collectible acquisitions, or do you preserve them as art?”
    I wear most of them.

  19. Jen + ERIN Says:

    This coat is A-MAZING !
    It is a true masterpiece
    The detail is breathtaking =)

  20. Philip C. Says:

    Creation is a strange thing. Lots of time, it comes as an image that urges you to materialize it. It just feels right. The creator may not have any statement or idea associated with the creation. The reviewer may be able to draw out ideas instilled subconsciously by the creator or it may just viewer’s own reflection of the creation. No joke. No seriousness.

  21. scott lipnick Says:

    this looks like a recreation of the HSBC logo. I think that the varying color depictions are inconsistent and do not blend well together. In addition the black “front” of the dress appears to break the chain of the pattern.

  22. charlie Says:

    Love that Good & Plenty!


    New York City is beautiful, amazing, just like The Metropolitan Museum of Art. My name is Luiz, from Brazil. God bless the american people.

  24. Laurie Aron Says:

    Marina, it’s marvelous that you wear these pieces, and I’m guessing that you find your own voice with them as well.

    But that Galliano F’2007 was so like something I would have dreamed up (je suis desolee, John), that I don’t know how I would just take a few pieces (if even I could obtain them) and make them my own. I’d make them look as much as possible like they did in the collection.

    I think for my next career, I would like to be a muse, preferably in Paris. How do you get a job like that??

  25. marina urbach Says:

    “I think for my next career, I would like to be a muse, preferably in Paris. How do you get a job like that?” Sofia Coppola comes to mind. She is creative in many ways and fields. She is one of the very few women, who does not have a plastic face, bottle blond hair et cetera. Her face is real. She is a muse to a talented young designer. She is exceptional, she does much more than serve as a muse! But you are an artist, why do you want to be a muse? Perhaps you can be an artist in Paris. Why not?

  26. Laurie Aron Says:

    Exactement. An artist in Paris is precisely what I’d like to be, muse thrown in for good measure, some involvement in the fashion world. I’ll get there eventually, but right now there are a few obligations and limitations–the rest of the family, money. I have three children, and the one who’d most like to live in Paris and speaks French is already in college. In fact, two are in college, but parenting doesn’t stop, it seems, and my son is a bit of a special case.

    The “for my next career” flippancy is a reference to the many I’ve already had!

    I’d have to switch allegiance from the Costume Institute to the Musee du Mode et du Textile!

    Is Charlotte Gainsbourg anyone’s muse? I wouldn’t want to compete with her.

  27. Laurie Aron Says:

    Scott Lipnick, maybe HSBC went back to Schiap for inspiration, more like.

  28. Scott Lipnick Says:

    Laurie Aron, the HSBC logo was well established in the early 19th century, and is derived from the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation flag. Shiap’s work as we all know is at best early 20th century, and this specific dress was not created until 1939. Perhaps before you move to Paris I would suggest furthering your knowledge of pop culture and its effect on Parisian designers throughout the 20th century. While a majority of Schiap’s work does not seem to be “pattern influenced” perhaps that is the reason why this dress has acheived such critical acclaim. It is always interesting to take a step back from fashion to see the broader connections across various industries.

  29. Laurie Aron Says:

    Scott, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking group in some version was established in 1865, the mid-19th century, but the holding company, and hence the logo, HSBC was not established until 1991. There was no reason to have such a logo before, because such a company did not exist before.

    I can hardly imagine how my knowledge of this equips me for moving to Paris, should such a thing become possible.

  30. freddie Says:

    This is a striking and unusual coat. But with things like this, one must be careful–you wear the coat or it wears you. If you wear it, it could very well be the only coat you need for a lifetime. Bringing it out at the right times and not every day.

  31. marina urbach Says:

    The connection to the HSBC logo appears to be derogatory, taking into account the rest of the comments about “inconsistent color depictions and how the black front of the dress appears to break the chain of the pattern.” Consistency and chain of a pattern” in itself are not values. It is very unlikely Schiaparelli would look for inspiration to something as vulgar as the logo for a bank. The connection to the commedia dell’arte, with all its implications, makes more sense, if we take into account that Schiaparelli named the collection “A Modern Comedy”

  32. Samantha Yves Says:

    To me this garment seemed as if it were inspired by a piece of art with all the bright colors and geometric shapes.

  33. Laurie Aron Says:

    Thank you, Marina. Perfectly stated.

  34. marina urbach Says:

    If you really want to go to Paris, I predict you will!

  35. Laurie Aron Says:

    De ta bouche a l’oreille de Dieu! ou de la Republique! Aussi de mes efforts moi-meme. Merci pour ton encouragement!

  36. Tara deVere Says:

    Complete amazingness…..the display of detail and creativity was unreal.

  37. marina urbach Says:

    Bon courage et vas-y!

  38. gobblegook Says:

    funky . . . tons of squares . . . kind of makes you dizzy.

  39. LCCG Says:

    I love anything that mix with black. It something that anyone or size can wear.
    It command attention as you walk into a room.
    I love it.

    This is a must see for me.

  40. Jenne Nunu Says:

    Classic overcoat… it is reminiscent of so many genres it is hard to know where to begin! I am reminded of nautical flags, the tradition of quilting in early 18th century America, and the cut…dare I say…the Matrix (Asian, of course)….

  41. Yesenia Sosa Says:

    This coat was introduce in spring 1939 collection. Elsa Schiaparelli made this coat during World War II. This coat is satin jacket with different color like blue,red,pink, yellow,and green.This coat can also be worn now and beside that this is a cute coat.

  42. vincent hayley Says:

    would be fun to toss into the air a variety of fabrics, attempting to make a pattern or start with a concept based on how they fall next to each other, in terms of textures, colors, and designs. an art largely composed of randomness.

  43. ALEXANDRA :) Says:

    ………… NO COMMENT

  44. pamela parker Says:

    You have a mistake in your text about the white bonnet….a coiffeur is the person who fixes your hair, whereas a COIFFURE is the hairstyle itself !!!! is it too late to fix the mistake in your text ! ????

  45. marina urbach Says:

    ‘You have a mistake in your text about the white bonnet….a coiffeur is the person who fixes your hair, whereas a COIFFURE is the hairstyle itself !!!! is it too late to fix the mistake in your text ! ????’

    Perhaps you are referring to this text:

    For the show, Gilbert’s sculptured coiffeurs reinforced Jean Paul Gaultier’s playful couture transgressions with the dandiacal rakishness that is a signature of the house.

  46. Shannon Welch Says:

    When I first saw this coat in a vintage fashion book, I had randomly flipped to the page where it was displayed and I believed it was from the 60’s or 70’s given its bold pattern. When I read the subtext and discovered it was from the 1930’s my jaw dropped. Shiaparelli was a part of the surrealist movement and it is definately evident in this garment. The trompe l’oeil pattern she used was way ahead of its time. A beautiful, bold garment!

  47. Sophie Bunten Says:

    I really liked all the dresses and shoes. They really inspired me. The colours really matched the way they looked. Sophie (aged 6)

  48. Sam Ruane Says:


  49. Catherine Crouch Says:

    I like all the colors and designs on the lovely piece of clothing. Catie age 6 from LA!

  50. Cyndi Says:

    I would wear this coat any day.

  51. Adam szatkowski Says:

    I HATE IT SO MUCH THAT IT HURTS MY EYES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!LOL!!!!!!

  52. angelica Says:

    its terrific lolove it

  53. Michael Says:

    In the early 1970’s, I escorted Ruth to a Broadway Opening and to my delight that evening, she wore this very coat. Ruth always wears the most wonderful clothing (I had met her through Rudi Gernreich whose designs she wore for many years), and I had heard about her legendary parties when she wore Chinese Imperial embroideries. From the collar, my first thought that evening was that she was again wearing something Mandarin until I noticed that the material was plain, common felt. But this felt was of several colors cut into hundreds of triangles and sewn with no two rows of resulting squares of the same size and, furthermore, in order to shape the coat, all the squares were slightly tapered trapezoids.
    “What an extraordinary coat, Ruth!”
    “Thank you. It’s from Elsa Schiaparelli. We ordered it many years ago in Paris.”
    Stunned that someone would still be wearing such a fragile, complicated, not-to-mention-unwashable garment, I asked her if she wasn’t worried about ruining it.
    “Darlin’ clothes are meant to be worn and when you buy couture it just lasts and lasts…”

  54. sara lee patz Says:

    I have loved this exhibit

  55. meimi1995529 Says:

    This looks like a coat my fifth grade teacher would wear and dont think thats an insult cause she has such an interestingly gorgeous style!

  56. Kat :-) Says:

    I liked this coat.
    I would wear it.

  57. Tallulah Bankhead Says:

    This coat makes me wish for a home that could accommodate its loveliness and construction.

  58. ML Says:

    This coat is almost a century old and it looks ultramodern. I am sure it will look just as modern in another 50 years! True fashion transcends time!

  59. toyamay(laytoya) Says:

    All that you can say is that you like this coat and you would wear it but what about the aesthetics of this coat by Elsa Schiaparelli she was a women the was credited with moving class distinction from clothing thorough simplicity of designs that were suitable for mass production.The colors red, blue, and yellow which are primary colors which shows passion, happiness and also trust give a look of a women walking on air. The colors black and white that outlines the coat and give it a light feel and also a warm showing a womens power and innocence. The widen in the sleeves, the long neck, and the longness of the coat will make a women look taller then she is. THe shapes in the structural design is making the coat have movement.

  60. Michelle Says:

    I love patchwork in general, and really like the colors and the cut of this coat. Wish “we” wore more color in our coats. NYC is a sea of black in the winter…BORING!

  61. samiam108a Says:

    This dress looks like Pacaso through up on it! Well at least that is my opinon….. I would never ever wear that!

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