Schiaparelli’s Fashionable Life Up for Bid

Fashion, style, painting, art, literature, beautiful objets – these were her immersions.

Dali, Giacometti, Man Ray, Cocteau, Duchamp and Steichen comprised her inner circle.

Dietrich, Hepburn, Bacall, Éluard, Gréco and the Duchess of Windsor were among her customers.

For designer Elsa Schiaparelli, it wasn’t a question of whether fashion was art, as we so often debate today. Both worlds existed equally and in concert in her world. Such was her surreality. She fashioned herself an artistic life and now, some of the accoutrements of that life are up for auction.

Christie’s Paris is hosting an auction of The Personal Collection of Elsa Schiaparelli, the evening of January 23rd. A collection of approximately 180 lots, from matador-inspired mode to furnishings (French Second Empire, svp) to a Dada portrait of the patron – a solarized study by her buddy, Man Ray, are up for bid.

47 MAN RAY Elsa Schiaparelli, vers 1928—1930 © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
Lot 47 Elsa Schiaparelli, vers 1928—1930, by Man Ray.

Schiaparelli’s granddaughter, Marisa Berenson (yes, she) decided, “There comes a time when you want to let go of things, because life changes. I think my grandmother’s personal belongings will inspire future generations; this is an extraordinary and fascinating legacy.”

A legacy, yes, and oh, what a lineage, too. Schiaparelli’s mother descended from the Medicis (yes, those) and Elsa was raised amongst aristocrats and even an astronomer (her grandfather).

Planets, stars and cosmic motifs were recurring themes in her collections. Surely the bidding will be sky high for this silk blouse, from her 1939 Astrologie collection.

Lot 134 CHEMISIER DE SOIE VIOLET , SCHIAPARELLI, COLLECTION ASTROLOGIE, 1939 © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
Lot 134 Violet silk blouse, Schiaparelli, Astrology Collection, 1939.

That Lesage embroidery is out of this world, no?

Lot 128 ROBE EN SATIN ROSE, STYLE OTTOMAN, PROBABLEMENT SCHIAPARELLI, 1950 © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
Lot 128 Pink satin Ottoman style dress, probably Schiaparelli, 1950.

Her other collaborators were no less stellar – Roger Vivier for shoes, Marcel Vertès for illustration and advertising, Jean Schlumberger for jewellery. Inspired by these contemporaries, her coterie of creative confidantes, and well, the universe, Elsa was known for her innovative designs and techniques.

Knitwear, visible zippers, culottes (!) led the growth of what was initially an apartment-run business into a brand that still resonates today. The House of Schiaparelli just showed their first couture collection in 60 years a few days ago, as part of Couture Week in Paris.

Lot 154 COLLECTION DE PATRON DU CALICOT © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
Lot 154 Collection of Schiaparelli Calico patterns – blueprints copied the world, over.

She was also inspired by many of the cultures in this world – as both her designs and items from her own closet show. Included below are examples from both, all of which are included in the Christie’s sale.

Lot 66 VESTE DE FEMME CHINE, XXEME SIECLE © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
Lot 66 A woman’s Chinese jacket.

A Chinese jacket she owned, above, and a cheongsam she designed, below.

Lot 67 ROBE CHEONGSAM DE SINGAPOUR EN SOIE VIOLETTE ET ZIBELINE, SCHIAPARELLI, ANNEES 1940 © Christie’s Images Limited
Lot 67 Singapore silk and violet sable cheongsam, Schiaparelli, 1940.
Lot 72 KIMONO , JAPON, XXEME SIECLE © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
Lot 72 Kimono, Japan, 20th Century.

A scarlet 20th Century Japanese kimono she owned, above and her take, during the 1950s, below.

Lot 63 MANTEAU DU SOIR ECARLATE SCHIAPARELLI, VERS 1950 © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
Lot 63 Schiaparelli’s version, 1950.

From the looks of this lot, she had a wonderful collection of wedding ensembles and other festive garments also.

Lot 95 TUNIQUE DE MARIAGE TUNISIENNE, XIXEME SIECLE © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
Lot 95 Tunisian wedding tunic, 19th Century.
Lot 98 ROBE OTTOMANE (ANTERI) EN VELOURS ROUGE , MILIEU DU XIXEME SIECLE © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
Lot 98 Red velvet Ottoman Robe (Anteri), mid-19th Century.
Lot 99 KAFTAN DE MARIAGE MAROC, VERS 1920 © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
Lot 99 Moroccan wedding kaftan, circa 1920.

I have a quilted Chinese brocade jacket in gold and fuchsia (trimmed in a sable-coloured fur), which I shall covet a little more closely now that I’ve seen the kaftan (and Schiaparelli’s violet cheongsam) above.

The kurta below, is perhaps the one that I love most. You can take the girl out of India, but…

Lot 106 TUNIQUE INDIENNE FIN DU XIXEME SIECLE © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
Lot 106 Indian tunic, late 19th Century.

Her eye was impeccable. I love the pieces from this collection that show her love of clean lines, too.

Lot 165 VESTE EN PEAU DE GUÉPARD , REVILLON, ANNEES 1930 © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
Lot 165 Cheetah leather jacket, Revillon, 1930.
Lot 133 ROBE DE COCKTAIL EN SOIE NOIRE , SCHIAPARELLI, VERS 1950 © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
Lot 133 Black silk cocktail dress, Schiaparelli, circa 1950.

Her life, not just this auction, seems to have been well curated.

Lot 155 BOA EN PLUMES MULTICOLORES, SCHIAPARELLI, vers 1930 © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
Lot 155 Multi-coloured feathered boa, Schiaparelli, 1930.

There is definite frou-frou in places, but never frivolity. Amongst this collection of covetable objects, is an adoration for visual culture, for history, for exploration, but most of all, for beauty.

Lot 153 PEDRO LEITAO © Christie’s Images Limited 2014
Lot 153 A portrait by Pedro Leitao.

These are artifacts of a beautiful life, well-lived. Thanks to Ms. Berenson, we also get to experience a little bit of that life.

This auction is for lovers of fashion, art and the avant-gardians among us, but my dears, with all those ups and downs, bidding is not for the faint-hearted.

See the full e-catalogue which includes furnishings, accessories and other decorative arts, and get lost in Elsa’s world.

With files from Christie’s, various biographies including Wikimedia and Schiaparelli.com.

All images are © Christie’s Images Limited 2014 and are used with permission. 

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