Elsa Schiaparelli – A Pioneer Fashion Designer

Elsa Schiaparelli was a pioneering Italian fashion designer active from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Elsa Schiaparelli

Many are unfamiliar with her work, having only heard of her contemporary rival, Coco Chanel. I am here in Paris to attend an Haute Couture class and thought I take the time to attend the Elsa Schiaparelli exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. The images are my own taken with my phone, sadly they are not the best but they are taken straight from exhibition as I walked and admired the embroidery. I will talk about the fantastic embroidery in another article.

Musee de Art Decorative Garden Entrance

She was born in Rome in 1890, and her early life was marked by tragedy, as her father died when she was young, and her mother was institutionalized for mental illness. Despite these hardships, Schiaparelli could attend boarding school in Switzerland and later attended the University of Rome, where she studied literature and art.

Schiaparelli's interest in fashion was sparked during a trip to Paris in the 1920s, where she was introduced to the world of haute couture. She quickly became fascinated by the art of dressmaking, and in 1927 she launched her own fashion house in Paris. Schiaparelli's designs were known for their bold, avant-garde style, which often incorporated unusual materials and motifs.

One of Schiaparelli's most famous designs was the “shocking pink” dress, which was created in 1937 and featured a vibrant pink hue unlike anything else seen in the fashion world at the time. The dress was a hit, and Schiaparelli soon became known for using bright, bold colours in her clothing.

She also experimented with Surrealist motifs and elements, incorporating surrealist imagery and themes into her clothing and accessories.

Schiaparelli's innovative designs earned her many fans, including some of the most famous people of the time, such as Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Mae West. She was also known for collaborating with artists and designers, such as Salvador Dali, who designed a shoe hat for her in 1937.

In addition to her fashion design work, Schiaparelli was also involved in other creative endeavours. She wrote several books, including a memoir and a cookbook, and she also designed jewellery and household items. Despite her success, Schiaparelli's fashion house closed in 1954, and she retired from the fashion industry.

Schiaparelli's legacy as a fashion designer has been enduring, and she has been credited with influencing many subsequent designers, including Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld and Jean Paul Gaulthier. Her bold, innovative designs and use of surrealist motifs and elements continue to inspire designers today.

Schiaparelli was not only a pioneering fashion designer but also a trailblazer in the world of business. She was one of the first women to launch her own fashion house. She did so at a time when men dominated the fashion industry. Schiaparelli was also an astute businesswoman. She was known for her strong work ethic and ability to run her fashion house with efficiency and discipline.

Despite the challenges she faced in her personal and professional life, Schiaparelli was able to achieve great success in the fashion industry. She was a true original, and her impact on the world of fashion has been enduring. Today, she is remembered as one of the most influential and innovative designers of the 20th century, and her contributions to the fashion world continue to be celebrated and admired.

In addition to her career as a fashion designer, Schiaparelli was also a talented writer and published a number of books during her lifetime. Her most famous work was a memoir called “Shocking Life,” which was published in 1954 and provided an insider's perspective on the fashion industry during the 1920s and 1930s.

Schiaparelli was not only a talented designer but also a strong and independent woman who blazed a trail for other female designers. She proved that women could succeed in a male-dominated industry and made a significant personal contribution to the fashion world.

Overall, Elsa Schiaparelli was a pioneering fashion designer who made a significant impact on the fashion industry during the 1920s and 1930s. Her innovative and avant-garde designs, as well as her collaborations with artists and designers, made her a key figure in the development of the “new look” in fashion. Despite facing financial struggles in the later years of her career, Schiaparelli's legacy as a designer has endured and continues to inspire many other designers today.

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Mrs. Angelika Messenger
Mrs. Angelika Messenger

Great article, thank you! 🙂 I know Schiparelli was very famous for her travel clothing which was a crinkled silk and looked beautiful and effortlessly elegant, straight out of the suitcase 🙂


Thank you for this very interesting article! Would also love to know what Haute Couture class you attended? We plan on traveling back to Paris this year and I am looking for a class.


Very interesting. As a teen, many years ago, I wanted to become a fashion designer. I took another path and settled on sewing for myself and family. Learning about designers is still interesting to me.

Carol in Denver
Carol in Denver

Thank you for this marvelous if all-too-brief article! I’ve never seen the items in your photos so this was a real treat.