If you're a fashionista who's not a babe, you look for clothes that create attention all by themselves. That was the secret of Elsa Schiaparelli, the Italian designer who gave women unusual textures, eccentric patterns and surprising shapes influenced by the Surrealist artists in her circle. In Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli--a winking reference to her most famous perfume as well as to her designing audacity--Dilys E. Blum celebrates the couturiere whose achievements have long been eclipsed by her rival, Coco Chanel. A frustrated sculptor, Schiaparelli invested many of her garments of the 1930s and '40s with an architectural quality, from aerodynamic, back-swept bustles and overskirts dramatically curved back over themselves to stiff, fan-shaped peplums. She created a hat in the shape of an upside-down shoe, made comfy leopard-skin booties, and incorporated such novelties as monkey fur and Rhodophane, a transparent man-made fabric. Her clothes were worn by Mae West and heiress Millicent Rogers, by Helena Rubenstein and French film star Arletty. At her most eccentric, inspired by the artist Man Ray, Schiaparelli produced suede gloves with red snakeskin fingernails. At her most practical, she designed a daring (in 1931) silk tennis costume with a divided skirt. More than 300 stunning photographs, both vintage and contemporary, and a detailed yet lively text made this book a must for anyone interested in the history of fashion. A coordinated exhibition of the same title is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, through Jan. 4, 2004, before traveling to Paris. --Cathy Curtis
From Publishers Weekly
Surrealist fashion designer Schiaparelli (1890-1973) gifted 71 of her own designs to an installation that Marcel Duchamp put together in 1942. In this exhaustive overview of Schiaparelli's design career, Blum presents that Duchamp collection (which now resides at the Philadelphia Museum of Art), along with 88 models and 5,800 original sketches donated by the designer to the Musee de la Mode et du Textile in Paris. Representing pre- and post-war designs, the book mixes new color photos of garments with documentary and fashion photos from Schiaparelli's lifetime. Blum, the Philadelphia Museum's curator of costume and textiles, organizes her work chronologically and thematically. She opens with the Roman-born Schiaparelli's first big success, a 1927 bowknot sweater that became one of her most copied designs, and ends with Schiaparelli's designs from the '50s, which includes a pair of sunglasses with the lenses trimmed with long blue eyelashes. This beautifully designed, large-format book with 306 illustrations would make a wonderful gift for anyone interested in the glamour of early 20th-century fashion.
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