After Horst: Elsa Schiaparelli by Mark Hughes

The one thing that draws people to Elsa Schiaparelli is that way she would work with artists, makers, photographers, illustrators – and hit the Zeitgeist so brilliantly. This is a bit of a tribute – a kind of ‘What Would Elsa Do?’, except of course one would never call her ‘Elsa’ because she hated it. It would have to be ‘Schiap’.

How Schiaparelli would view the presentation and promotion of fashion now - the Frock Fever whenever a red carpet is rolled out, the saturation point reached now with the so-called glossy magazines, often editorially emasculated by brands advertising. Would her Italian soul recall Pisanello’s depiction ofLuxury – gaunt with febrile desire to consume?

It represents the Deadly Sin of Lust: Luxury (and the lust for it) being regarded as a peculiarly female transgression. Pisanello’s exquisite rabbit compounds the sexual entendre, but I can imagine her flicking through pictures of the  Louis Vuitton Montaigne or the Cèline Trapeze on her i-phone and thinking ‘want want want.’

Such novelties that are key to the fashion industry would provide rich pickings for Schiaparelli’s instinct for satire – one can see Google Glass hats,  Xanax necklaces, muffs as i-pad bags, heart shaped buttons with Kim and Kanye in saccharine kitsch, Banksy-tribute trompe l’oeils, and innovative fabric and materials technology influenced by sustainability-consciousness. And would she create another fragrance bottle based on a cast of Rihanna’s body, from bust to torso as with Mae West?

Schiaparelli believed that fashion could be an art form – admitting that it was ‘a difficult and unsatisfying art, because as soon as a dress is born it has already become a thing of the past.’  At her height as a designer she wrote, ‘artists then took much more part in the life and development of fashion than they do now. Working with artists like Bébé Bérard, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali, Vertès, Van Dongen; and with photographers like Honingen-Huni (sic), Horst, Cecil Beaton and Man Ray gave one a sense of exhilaration. One felt supported and understood beyond the crude and boring reality of merely making a dress to sell.’

‘Never Trust a Man to Iron Your Shirt on the Maid’s day off!’ The decorative iron scorch disaster – a little Surreal joke in the spirit of Schiaparelli, Mark Hughes, July 2014�
Lola the maid is on her day off, walking Strumpet and Nuts in Central Park. She is dressed by Elsa Schiaparelli for her birthday with a cake hat, fur teacup and cutlery jewellery; Mme Schiaparelli has run up something special for Strumpet and Otis too.
Man Ray, Cadeau, 1921, editioned replica 1972, Tate, a flat iron, 14 nails applied by the artist. It is one most significant pieces of Surrealist art; its original function as used in dressmaking, tailoring and everyday care of clothing makes it interesting in terms of fashion and Schiaparelli specifically. Mark Hughes has referenced it in this series – I wonder if the Man Ray story told below influenced Schiaparelli/Dali’s Tear dress?

The illustrators who worked with her were so good, so extraordinary, I thought it might an interesting proposition to ask Mark Hughes to come up with some fur and non-fur designs for this coming season which have an element of her signature as well as new ideas. There is luxury here – the mink and the fox, the silk jersey, the ultimate luxury of couture, but it is not the main story. The aim is to ask – ‘What Would Elsa Do?’ There are 15 looks here; a great playing on the theme of ‘Stormy Weather’, a play on Schiap’s Typhoon collection for Autumn/Winter 1934. It bird-in-flight and 3 dimensional play on fabric into bustle/tail feather shapes went on to influence Christian Dior’s  Envol  line for Spring 1948 and we know who birds influenced, don’t we? Lee McQueen, as much of as collaborator and radical as Mme Schiaparelli herself.

Watching a couture presentation at Schiaparelli, 21 Place Vendôme.
Stormy Weather – after Typhoon, which Schiaparelli launched February 5th 1934
‘Every Cloud has a Silver Lining’: clouds in applied min, July 2014 by Mark Hughes
Stormy Weather – day dress, huge seagull brooch, white mink clouds, Schiaparelli monkey-fur inspired shoes, by Mark Hughes
Evening coat, ‘Stormy Weather’, by Mark Hughes
Gold jacket with Shocking pink sleeves in fox and please make sure the cumulus is in mink. Thank you, Mark. Technical drawing next.
Mark Hughes drawing for sleeve and shoulder with applied fox.
Schiaparelli’s first collection to be shown in London was ‘Typhoon’. There were 38 exits, the models highlighting British tweeds, woollens and knits. The tailoring was immaculate, blocked at Anderson and Sheppard in Savile Row. A jacket from the collection appeared on the cover of Vogue’s April 4 1934 issue, drawn by Eric
Playing with Elsa Schiaparelli’s red jacket from the cover of Vogue, by Mark Hughes. A beautiful modern development of the original idea, which was, let’s face it, pretty straightforward in style. She was testing her market I think and the British upperclasses are either mad or dull – one assumes she sold to the mad ones. Otherwise there was always Dietrich who loved to shock with her wardrobe.
Royalists and Republicans - Vogue April 1935, by Berard, a mask with long Cellophane eyelashes, to ‘carry for fun’. Bottom, homage by Mark Hughes
Developing the theme 2014, but the new detail apart from the very clever drape and cut is the glove that extends into the sleeve and hood. Would Elsa Schiap develop the hoodie streetwwear from Baltimore to Beijing – and just how does fashion at the top relate to the urban underclass? By Mark Hughes
Man Ray on using ‘Cadeau’, his iron with 14 nails - ‘You can tear a dress to ribbons with it. I did it once, and asked a beautiful eighteen-year-old coloured girl to wear as it as she danced. Her body showed through as she moved around, it was like a bronze in movement. It was really beautiful.’ Tear dress by Elsa Schiaparelli, print by Salvador Dali, the Circus Collection, 1938. It was an adaptation of a Florentine Renaissance combined with sarees collection from February 1935, which inaugurated the new Maison Schiaparelli. It is a fantastic – literally – piece, best seen worn by Marisa Berenson in 1971.
Front view of above, by Mark Hughes
Mark Hughes, homage to Elsa Schiaparelli in fur – coq feathers over fox sleeves, the gloves yellow suede, the dress a combination of draped silk jersey and taffeta, 1 July 2014

SPOTLIGHT ON: Mark Hughes, ‘Schiaparelli in Cloud Cuckoo Land.’

Mark Hughes is British and a Professor of Fashion at Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta, Georgia, once home to Scarlett O’Hara and now to Mark, some say "best kept secret in fashion". After doing a BA and then MA in Fashion at Central Saint Martin’s he has won the Betty Traske award for Fashion Illustration, worked in Savile Row and around the world as a designer and educator.

Basically he can riff on anything that requires pencil, paper, scissors and fabric – and give a running commentary at the same time. So it is an honour having him work on Mrs Miniver, with Charles James and Schiaparelli as two favourite projects.

 ‘What makes a designer ‘great in your opinion?’
For me it’s that they work in 3D themselves, they do NOT merely 'outsource' the creation of muslins, toiles to 'minions'.  Like this they make discoveries that aid the design process. One of the things that marks out a “great” are how they tackle sleeves.....They never create sleeves that are based on accepted dressmaking or tailoring custom. Madame Grès often cut sleeves that are in one with the bodice.  Balenciaga of course developed the kimono sleeve into something much more personal, Charles James spent $20,000 and several years trying to perfect the ideal straight sleeve and Vionnet rarely ever cut the same sleeve twice. Great designer's start largely from scratch with a problem and don't accept a solution that they have not created themselves."

Mark Hughes on ‘Stormy Weather’ – and Schiaparelli
Fur should be used as an injection of high octane glamour to accompany fabrics that are already extremely glamorous. 
If you look at her collections the fabrics are incredibly playful, have great wit and care. Schiap leads one towards a future where fun is prevalent, in her archive there are collections based on horoscopes and suns moons and stars motifs, these sorts of fabrics are the stuff of dreams.

In the work I have done in homage there is a correlation between clouds, sleep. The clouds on a background of pale blue silk grosgrain are in mink. Fur should be used with incredible sensitivity, I have drawn a sleeve where a fox tail circles the sleeve head and then the end of the tail fits into a seam at the elbow, at both the inside and the outside of the sleeve. The illusion is of a 'fur sleeve' but in reality what you have is something with all the glamour and Hollywood of the use of fur but it’s for the ‘day’ because I use a wool suiting fabric.

Schiap was very good with fur; and the use of fur needs to be part of respect for the animal that died so we could use its pelt, for me the worst thing fur can do is bury the wearer and look heavy and it’s the last thing I intend to happen when I use it.....sensitivity is the key word."

 

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