Discover Italian Designer Elsa Schiaparelli, the Greatest Rival of Coco Chanel

Hailed as the mother of surrealism in fashion, Elsa Schiaparelli transformed the way women dress. She is considered one of the most imaginative, bold, and innovative fashion designers in the world.

We invite you to find out how she became an icon in the fashion world.

With no technical training, she made a real revolution in the way women dress. She challenged Chanel’s famous black dress with her Shocking Pink and became a sensation of her time.

Elsa Schiaparelli - Short Biography

Born in 1890 in the Corsini Palace in Rome, Italy, Elsa Schiaparelli grew up in a family of aristocrats and intellectuals.

She studied philosophy but her dream was to become an actress. In 1911, she published a collection of overtly sensual poems, Arethusa. Shocked by her poems, Elsa's parents sent her to a convent in Switzerland. But the nuns couldn't keep her there. Elsa left the convent after going on a hunger strike, according to schiaparelli.com
Elsa Schiaparelli
Picture - source dailyartmagazine
In 1913, she set off for London with one of her sister’s friends to help look after her children. When she was attending a conference on theology by Count Wilhelm Wendt de Kerlor, she fell in love with this young theosophist. They married in 1914 and left London for New York in 1916, after spending several seasons in Nice.


They had a daughter Yvonne, nicknamed Gogo. Born in 1920, the baby soon contracted poliomyelitis. Juggling her Bohemian lifestyle, part-time jobs, her husband’s repeated absences, and taking care of her daughter, Elsa Schiaparelli asked for a divorce.

In 1922, she moved to Paris with her daughter. One day, she accompanied a friend to a fitting at Paul Poiret, the greatest couturier of the age. She tried on a few designs while she was waiting, even though she knew she couldn’t afford such pieces. Realizing this and sensing that such an atypical woman would be a good advert for his clothes, Paul Poiret suggested that Elsa could borrow several designs.

This experience of a couture house and luxury lit a spark in Elsa that would prove to be one of the turning points in her life. With this seed ingrained in her, In the mid-1920s, Elsa Schiaparelli let her creativity flourish and became a freelance designer.

Elsa Schiaparelli was a "Surrealist" in the Fashion World

Elsa Schiaparelli is considered the mother of surrealist style in fashion. She launched her own business right out of her Parisian apartment in 1927. Her debut collection was immediately deemed a "masterpiece" by Vogue and had such an impact across the pond that American textile manufacturers offered her first licensing agreements.

Elsa Schiaparelli was a friend of famous surrealists like Salvador Dalì and Man Ray who influenced her vision of fashion. No wonder Elsa turned the fabric into a painting canvas...

In a time when women mostly wore subdued colors, Elsa Schiaparelli took pleasure in challenging typical notions of the dress. She worked within the confines of traditional tailoring but played with unusual details, extraordinary materials, and the imagery of Surrealism to create clothes and accessories that incorporate humor and surprise or sometimes even shock the viewer.

Between the two world wars, she was the greatest rival of the famous French designer Coco Chanel. While Chanel was famous for her "little black dress", Elsa Schiaparelli tempted the women with colorful, bold clothes. Their jewelry was also contrasting. Chanel pieces were of a classic, simple elegance, while Schiaparelli created exuberant pieces in colors and shapes no one saw before.

Elsa Schiaparelli - an Innovative Designer

Schiaparelli was one of the first designers to use a visible zipper in haute couture but also one of the first couturiers to develop the wrap dress. It was Elsa who first penned the skirt/trouser silhouette that we now call culottes.

Elsa was also the first designer to create figural buttons, perhaps a precursory of her subsequent jewelry line. Above all, she is the creator of the bright pink hue called "Schiaparelli pink or/and ‘shocking pink’."

Her creations attracted famous customers: Wallis Simpson, the future Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, and Daisy Fellowes.

The Shocking Jewelry of Elsa Schiaparelli

She began designing jewelry in the 1930s. She used glass stones, crystals, and cabochons, moon rocks, aurora borealis stones, pearls dyed to match the stones, iridescent glass seashells in an array of shapes and colors never seen before.

One of the most famous pieces is her iconic Rhodoid necklace. Designed in 1938 for the "Pagan collection" inspired by the Quattrocento painter Sandro Botticelli, the piece was made out of clear Rhodoïd (a type of cellulose acetate) with iridescent metal insects scuttling across its surface.
Metal Insects Designer Elsa Schiaparelli

Picture Credit: Sotheby's France
The Italian designer shocked the fashion world with her brooches in the shape of an eye, lobster pins, lip-shaped brooches with pearls for teeth, as well as her earrings in the shape of telephones.

Lobster brooch Elsa Schiaparelli, the Greatest Rival of Coco Chanel

Picture Pinterest.com

Lips brooch Elsa Schiaparelli

Lips Brooch Pintrest.com

The Famous Elsa Schiaparelli Collections

In 1937 in collaboration with French avant-garde poet Jean Cocteau, Elsa designed clothing masterpieces such as an evening coat featuring two trompe l’oeil faces and roses, a trademark of her style. Collaborations with famous artists such as Dali and Cocteau generated some of Schiaparelli’s most renowned pieces, according to dailyartmagazine.com.

In 1938 she created Circus Collection which included clowns, bears, acrobats, and horses. One of her most famous creations, the Lobster Dress, using a drawing by Salvador Dali, was worn by Wallace Simpson during a photo session by Cecil Beaton just before Simpson married the Duke of Windsor. Today the lobster motif is synonymous with the house of Schiaparelli, and it has been used  in their recent couture collections
Wallis Simpson in lobster dress

Wallis Simpson in Lobster Dress - source: Pinterest

House of Schiaparelli - Disappearance and Restoration

In 1939 when France declared war on Germany, Elsa Schiaparelli left Paris, and from 1941 on she spent the war years in New York. After the war, she returned to France and restarted her activity but her business started to wind down because of her rivalry with Coco Chanel and especially because of the emergence of Christian Dior’s New Look.

She decided to close her Couture House in 1954 and devoted herself to her autobiography, "Shocking Life". She died in her sleep in 1973.

Her shop in Paris reopened in 2012 at the same address, in Place Vendôme, and is now a leading brand in haute couture.

Today, the house’s legacy continues to live on through the work of creative director Daniel Roseberry. The Texan designer revived the enigmatic eye of Cocteau in a series of earrings and eyewear featuring gold-fringed irises photo-printed onto ceramic, later replete with glittering chandelier tears.
Cocteau eyes

Cocteau Eyes
Daniel Roseberry was the mastermind behind the spectacular look of Bella Hadid at the Cannes 2021 Film Festival. Collective jaws dropped when Hadid made her dramatic appearance.


Bella Hadid wore a floor-grazing wool gown pulled from the Schiaparelli Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2021/22 collection. The form-fitting black wool dress had a neckline designed by Daniel Roseberry that cut under Hadid's chest, which was covered by a gold-dipped necklace in the shape of the bronchi passageway of the lungs, adorned with rhinestones.
Bella Haddid wearing a Schiaparelli necklace

Bella Haddid wearing a Schiaparelli necklace -  source Capture