Lady into Fox - in the spirit of Constance Bennett, who, at Maison Schiaparelli "turned into a fox, so many furs encircled her person."' Illustration by Mark Hughes.

21 Place Vendôme. Maison Schiaparelli – and before that, Maison Cheruit – 7th July 2014  – saw the third Couture presentation since Mr Della Valle purchased the label from Elsa Schiaparelli’s family. Savour that name – Elsa Schiaparelli  (pronounced Skee-app- a –relly) – it belonged to one of the greatest designers of the twentieth century – an innovator, a thinker, a critic, a wit; an iconoclast – and a person who respected and used traditional tailoring, cut and construction, decorative crafts and techniques to come up with new ideas that were relevant. And from 1927 to 1939, relevant she was, dressing women in ‘hard chic’.

‘Her customer did not have to worry as to whether she was beautiful or not’ recalled Bettina Ballard ‘– she was a type. She was noticed wherever she went, protected by an armour of amusing conversation making smartness. Her clothes belonged to Schiaparelli more than they belonged to her – it was like borrowing someone else’s chic and, along with it, their assurance’.

Chanel rather accurately described her as an ‘Italian artist who makes clothes’ - and Schiaparelli’s richest women wore her couture while millions bought into it through her licences or just by buying copies. All this against the backdrop of growing fascism and communism, the Depression, the Spanish Civil War and, to underline my point the rise in power of  Hitler and Mussolini. Schiaparelli believed that "fashion is born by small facts, trends, or even politics, never by trying to make little pleats and furbelows, by trinkets, by clothes easy to copy, or by the shortening or lengthening of a skirt’. After moving to 21 Place Vendome she announced that she would reflect current political, social, and artistic changes.

So it was interesting to see how the designer at the new Schiaparelli, Marco Zanini did this season;  how do you package a label with such an idiosyncratic history for today’s couture clientele. I doubt that many of these ladies worry about whether the collection acts as a barometer to social and political change. Which is good, because it was hard to find. Zanini has to establish Schiaparelli woman and I seriously suggest he takes a long, close look at his colleague Farida Khelfa and bases it on her. He needs a muse and there is one in the building. Mme Khelfa is a Schiaparelli ‘type’ – like Dietrich, Crawford, Millicent Rogers, Nancy Cunard, Daisy Fellowes, Gala Dali, Mae West – she has the guts to be daringly but always beautifully dressed and the confidence in her very striking beauty. It worked for Alaia and for Gaultier, I cannot see the problem for Zanini and I am quite sure that he understands that. This designer must be allowed to explore how truly different, how avant-garde AND appealing this brand should be.

Fur wise – what was good was that it wasn’t conspicuous consumption writ large in pink fluorescent letters – it was a designer who treated furs like a fabric and came up with silhouettes and styles that have the legacy of Schiaparelli in there. Sheared beaver, sable, mink, fox – that I could see – the nod to the monkey fur jacket was really clever, ostrich feather filaments treated so they looked like strands of hair. So yes, it was fake – and also I spotted a fake fur bag – so far, on trend. What needed to be clearer I think for younger people is just how Zanini did try and base those furs on what Elsa Schiaparelli had done – like the mink intarsia Harlequin bag – also amusing because it is, of course, entirely Italian in tradition. What I do think is that when Schiaparelli as is now thinks about furs it should be in terms of clever accessories – Elsa Schiaparelli described the Hollywood star Constance Bennett transforming into a fox so swathed she was in Schiap’s furs (Shocking Life). One could never say that about a Chanel or Balenciaga customer. Poiret yes, Schiaparelli, yes, Mlle Chanel’s clients turning into foxes? I think not.

Mrs Miniver.

Sundae, the pink ermine.
Mrs Miniver at Maison Schiaparelli for the second couture presentation by the designer Marco Zanini, in Paris on 7th July. It is sacred ground and let no man think it will be easy to bring alive the spirit of such an extraordinary woman, creatively, intellectually and emotionally. This was the Schiaparelli Woman, according to Bettina Ballard, who cut her teeth in Paris for America Vogue in the 1930s and after the Second World War: ‘Her customer did not have to worry as to whether she was beautiful or not – she was a type. She was noticed wherever she went, protected by an armour of amusing conversation making smartness. Her clothes belonged to Schiaparelli more than they belonged to her – it was like borrowing someone else’s chic and, along with it, their assurance’. Illustration by Mark Hughes, who spent weeks perfecting that distinctive fox sleeve-head. To which Strumpet says ‘Merde! Where’s my biscuit? And Sundae asks ‘How long do I have to put up with this furfest?’
A light touch – Schiaparelli black fox coat, illustrated by Eric, Vogue September 1937.
Schiaparelli, Paris, the Couture 7th July 2014. It must be a century since the young Italian ingénue Elsa Schiaparelli fell in love with the handsome young Theosophist Count Willem de Kendt de Kerlor and married him in London shortly before the First World War began. She thought the Suffragettes were hideous. Good thing she left for the South of France and then America. A century on we can celebrate a life begun in hardship and unhappiness that in so many ways triumphed – in so many ways through strength of character. Frankly, a Suffragette in Need is a Friend Indeed
Line up, Schiaparelli Couture Fall 2014, 7th July, 21 Place Vendôme, home of Schaiparelli since late 1934 – 90 years.
Couture presentation at Schiaparelli, Spring 1935, by Raoul Dufy
Schiaparelli Couture Fall 2014, look 1, double-breasted coat in imitation leopard with sable sleeves made with horizontal bands of skins. This touched immediately on Elsa Schiaparelli’s built up sleeve heads of 1933. The aim is, one assumes, to provide a perceptibly Schiaparelli piece for today’s luxury market. Elsa Schiaparelli’s furs, however, were far more sportif – Pierre Balmain’s advice that a fur coat should have the same movement and fluidity as well as cut as a cloth one can be tricky when mixing androgyny, camp and sable, THE signifier of super luxe and cost.
Leopard jacket, matching hat and shoes, Schiaparelli studio drawing AW 1939 – 40. Top, from Harpers Bazaar, September 1939
For winter 1935’s ‘Royalists and Republicans’ collection, Eric drew Schiaparelli’s huge silver fox gauntlets which ‘give you enormous, and enormously chic, paws’ for Vogue and her Garde Républicaine ‘warrior’ – or goddess Athena - helmet plumed with a silver fox tail, matched with a silver fox wrap. Woman in control, determined, mobile, in charge.
Schiaparelli Couture, sheared beaver jacket, look 2, Fall 2014.
Elsa Schiaparelli arriving in New York on SS Europa in autumn 1936, in unclipped beaver coat and beaver hat, a deep carbon blue with brown check bias cut tweed suit. Unsheared beaver was traditionally a masculine fur to wear – it has been used more recently in the women’s collections, particularly by Dolce and Gabbana.
Schiaparelli couture , mink intarsia bag in Harlequin pattern, Couture Fall 2014 ,inspired by the Commedia dell’ Arte and Elsa Schiaparelli’s 1939 collection, right. The bleeding heart is a pop culture motif - the heart was used in original Schiaparelli image making and the arrow were a theme for 1939. The use of Commedia motifs is happily Italian and a regular feature of designer collections; Vivienne Westwood in particular. Right, Harlequin-inspired patchwork, coat, Schiaparelli Commedia dell arte collection, 1938, Vreeland and Penn, Inventive Clothes, 1977, Metropolitan Museum of Art. �
Top, Structural dressmaking, on left Schiaparelli coat with collar and reveres of marten dyed to look like sable and on the right, upper sleeves of sealskin which added to the raised shoulder and full upper sleeves. Vogue called the silhouette ‘structural’ ... She was the so called carpenter of clothes. Douglas Pollard, Vogue November 9th 1932. Bottom, Schiaparelli couture Fall 2014, look 7; cropped sports jacket with Saga fox sleeves.
Circus collection inspired: Schiaparelli Couture Fall 2014 look 8 about to come down the runway and right, detail. The blue bag that looks as if it could double as a muff is in Saga mink. This is based on the Spring 1938 collection, that saw Maison Schiaparelli transformed with acrobats, clowns, performing dogs – and Cecile Sorel being driven triumphantly round and round Place Vendôme, her Schiaparelli cape flowing wildly behind her. Schiap was the first person to turn shows into theatrical experiences. She was hugely influenced by her mentor, Paul Poiret.
Schiaparelli’s Circus Collection, Vogue March 1938, by Christian Berard. Playful, whimsical, escapist … the circus performs as Europe faced increasing threats from Nazi Germany in the run up to World War 2.
Schiaparelli Couture Fall 2014, look 16, cropped jacket made with treated strands of ostrich feather, in homage to the black fox and black monkey fur garments and accessories by the original Schiaparelli. It’s a great piece showing the tradition of couture craftsmanship and a fun take on the Colobus monkey hair story. The shape is pure box jacket Schiap, see right, centre piece, little suit with cartridge pleat sleeves, Vogue March 1933. Note the double fox collar fastening at the back on the right and pagoda shoulder. Schiap bought the feral back into fur; it was part of her iconoclasm to play with subversion while loving luxury.
After seeing a Schiaparelli presentation in 1935, Anäis Nin commented in her diary that she ‘could well believe she [Schiap] was a painter and sculptress before she designed dresses.’ Marlene Dietrich in 1935, in coat collar of black and Cossack hat of the same. Colobus monkey lined and edged boots, Schiaparelli, made by André Perugia, Circus collection, 1938. These are one of her most surreal pieces – following on from Meret Oppenheim’s antelope-skin lined teacup and saucer, itself a response to Picasso challenging the artist – that anything can be made in fur.
Beaton, Vogue March 20th 1935
As you all know, the actress Toto Koopman loved a fox skirt back in the 1930s. This cocktail ensemble has a skirt in silver fox, concept, design and illustration by Mark Hughes, July 2014. The shocking pink neckpiece is in stripped ostrich feather and owes its realisation to a fantasy to a ruff worn by Elizabeth I. It is also remarkably like the feather collar worn by Daisy Fellowes
There was a playfulness not in the clothes she designed but in the way that they were represented by artists and photographers. René Boüet-Willaumez, Schiaparelli's ribbon tied furs – Above, mink-tail cat’s whiskers, funnel hat; Right, black fox collar, glove-backs and hat prow.’ Vogue Sept 15 1937,
How to wear fur informally - ‘BLACK SPIKED WITH COLOUR’ –Vogue March 1935, Schiaparelli the three drawings on the right by René Boüet-Willaumez. Mink coat on left, with option mink hood, or coat to be worn with mink edges ‘Juliet’ mesh snood. On the right, Louiseboulanger. This story will have been styled by the great British fashion editor Babs Boüet-Willaumez, then based in Paris. Bettina Ballard would sit for them and model – these illustrators would work from live models. The idea of working with a light box would have been a joke. It would have meant that you couldn’t draw.
Vogue: ‘The newest collars are draped like necklaces’; both by Schiaparelli, the one on the right in ermine. Illustration by Douglas Pollard, 29 April 1931. Pollard was one of the surest communicators of her ideas – clean, straight lines, softened by accessories and lightened by the wit of detailing.
Eve Arnold - A party at Count Basie's, Magnum Photos. This is here because I think these ladies, particularly the one in the front, wears her fur jacket in such a way that Schiap would have approved – it is like a part of her – elegant, conventional for sure, but an expression – especially with that fantastic necklace.
Mme Arletty in Schiaparelli jacket, fox wrap and foxtail hat by Hoyningnen-Heune 1939. Arletty was one of Schiaparelli’s earliest clients and the celebrated actress was a source of great publicity for the designer. Schiaparelli believed that "fashion is born by small facts, trends, or even politics, never by trying to make little pleats and furbelows, by trinkets, by clothes easy to copy, or by the shortening or lengthening of a skirt’. From now on, she announced in 1935, she was going to reflect current political, social, and artistic changes

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