Parisian Insights: Christie’s and Elsa Schiaparelli’s Personal Collection

Schiaparelli observing her own brand's fur coat and a Lanvin hat.

Schiaparelli observing her own brand’s fur coat and a Lanvin hat.

We are certainly enjoying a Schiaparelli moment: following the revival of the couture house by Diego della Valle seconded by Farida Khelfa and Marco Zanini and the Prada/Schiaparelli exhibition held at the MET in 2012, the auction house, Christie’s has organised an exceptional sale of her personal collection in Paris, on the 23rd January 2014.

Marisa Berenson, the granddaughter of the iconic 1930s fashion designer decided to let go of about 180 pieces illustrating the personal taste of Elsa Schiaparelli – an eccentric time capsule made of art pieces, furniture, sketches, clothing and accessories.

Jules Chéret - Folies Bergères, la Loie Fuller, 1893.

Jules Chéret – Folies Bergères, la Loie Fuller, 1893.

No need to play with suspense, the auction was a real success. The pre-sale estimate was doubled and reached a total of 1.686.250 €. In the sale’s top ten appear such pieces as a pair of carved marble leopards, an Alberto Giacometti lamp, Aubusson tapestries along photographies of the designer by Man Ray and Horst P. Horst. But fashion was not left aside as a Balenciaga plaid as well as an ensemble of Schiaparelli patterns reached elevated prices.

An ensemble of 1950s patterns.

An ensemble of 1950s patterns.

It is not the first time Christie’s delivers important fashion auctions (past memorable examples include Anna Piaggi or Vivienne Westwood’s personal collections) but it is the first time it takes place in Paris and no better time nor place could have been chosen at the peak of the haute couture season.

All that made the Italian fashion designer unique could be observed during the collection’s exhibition: her love for fantasy and surrealism – an art movement she deeply collaborated with, the close relationship between art and fashion – an association the auction house has ingenuously accounted with its presentation mingling fashion pieces and art objects, her strong taste for oriental aesthetics and the legendary shocking pink.

Probably Schiaparelli, Black Mink Hood, End of 1930s.

Probably Schiaparelli, Black Mink Hood, End of 1930s.

How interesting to inspect the inventive environment La Schiap lived in and what she loved to wear. Fashion wise, she definitely had a thing for furs (on the 49 fashion related lots, 12 are fur pieces), she also privileged oriental wear inspired by her Tunisian home and I can definitely imagine her lounging around in those vivid and precious tunics and dresses and finally, when it comes to the garments she would select from her personal brand, embroidered tops seemed to be favoured. How exciting to observe for real the ‘Astrologie’ collection with its key piece: a violet silk blouse embroidered by Lesage and the impressive 1940 beaded rodeo waistcoat that Karl Lagerfeld would have probably loved to have in his Paris/Dallas show.  I also fell deeply in love with an embroidered shocking pink bolero: a feminine and sensual matador.

Schiaparelli - Pink Wool, 1940.

Schiaparelli – Pink Wool, 1940.

As for the furniture and various objects that adorned her interior, there was definitely something of a Renaissance ‘cabinet de curiosités’ as Elsa Schiaparelli seemed to mix and match such a diverse selection of styles and influences: Art Deco met Baroque while French Second Empire blended with Louis XVI Chinoiseries…All these objects illustrate the eclectic almost bohemian-like setting the designer had created for herself. It is hard not to think that only such an avant-garde and creative personality could assume mixing so many different genres – the sign of the surrealist movement she felt connected to.

Wedding Kaftan (1930) against an Aubusson Tapestry.

Wedding Kaftan (1930) against an Aubusson Tapestry.

The auction also highlighted her artistic friendships with objects imagined by the sculptor Alberto Giacometti, the illustrators Christian Bérard and Marcel Vertès or the photographer Man Ray: a fascinating fragment of 1930s modernist art.

Marcel Vertès - Schocking, 1946.

Marcel Vertès – Schocking, 1946.

In the whole, along the obvious financial logic behind the auction (I must admit I’m always a little disturb by the fact that trustees sell off objects from their ancestors like this), it was also a formidable situation for us curious historians to take a closer look at the intimate life of a famed fashion designer. Although we may have read numerous books or visited exhibitions that explained her work, we definitely got to know Elsa Schiaparelli better through her intimate collection that not only highlighted her inspirational taste but also brought us on a journey through her times’ contemporary art scene.

I do hope, as it happens in London and New York, this will make Parisian auction houses organise further major couture and fashion sales as we clearly miss them here!

Exotic Wall.

Exotic Wall.

Further Resources:

You can browse the auction’s catalogue on Christie’s website.

Take a look at Heather Vaughan’s post about the designer.

Rediscover the MET’s exhibition uniting Miuccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli

Read her autobiography: Schiaparelli, Elsa. Shocking Life. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 2007.

Discover Showstudio’s Conversation between Hubert de Givenchy and Marisa Berenson.

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  • Arianna February 05, 2014 04.25 pm

    Reading her autobiography now for a project!

    Another great resource is Caroline Evans’ “Masks, Mirrors, and Mannequins” in Fashion Theory 3:2 March 1999.

    What an interesting choice of mannequin for that 1940s bolero!

  • Hayley-Jane February 06, 2014 09.08 am

    Yes you’re right, Caroline Evans’ article is a fantastic resource too.
    The mannequins were indeed interesting in a good or bad way. I don’t think they did quite an effort on that point. Was it intentional to leave those boobs out under the bolero? I found it quite amusing and cheeky but it did lack a certain idea of styling…Other pieces were strangely presented too…I had never seen a fashion auction exhibition before so I could not really observe whether they had or not done a serious work. I do thing on the whole that Christie’s did quite an effort scenography-wise.


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