‘In difficult times fashion is always outrageous’ Elsa Schiaparelli never watered down her opinions: she meant word by word what she said. Born in Rome, from an aristocratic and intellectual family, she flourished as a fashion designer during the post World War I era. The world was going through an economic, social and artistic reconversion. Paris, the city to which Elsa moved in 1922 and that she called home for the rest of her life, was home of an artistic revolution. Surrealism and Dadaism started growing in importance, and Salvador Dali and Man Ray quickly became famous names in Paris.
Elsa, known for her fresh and humorist approach to life, was a very welcomed novelty at that time. She soon was part of the circle of the biggest painters and artists in Paris, something shocking since she was ‘only’ a fashion designer. Given the influence of her new friends, she soon began to approach fashion as an art form. Elsa had a habit of giving a meaning to her clothing, usually taking inspiration from her subconscious. With this philosophy in mind, she started working with many of her friends. Art was the driver of creation, not aesthetic of moral norms. Among the many ‘collabs’, the ones with Salvador Dali were the most interesting.
The truth is, Schiaparelli was as much an artist as a dress designer and she was happy being both. Her most endeavored works consist of a shoe-hat, a skeleton dress, mirror suit, and a lobster dress. The latter is the most famous of the three due to two factors: it’s very strong sexual connotations and the controversial individual form whom it was designed.
Let’s start talking about the dress from a purely descriptive point of view. A very simple white high waist silk dress, with an orange belt right below the breast and a gentle neckline not too deep and not too austere. So far, Dali collaboration seems to be non-existing. Yet, the orange colored belt matches the color of a giant lobster painted from the pelvis to the whole length of the dress and garnished with parsley.
Here the surrealist symbolism becomes clear. The painter gives the lobster a very strong sexual connotation, emphasized by the positioning of the animal on the dress. Its aphrodisiac effects and its mysterious sexual organs complete the hedonistic meaning. Second, the woman who wore it first was an American that changed European history. Immortalized in a French Vogue shoot by Cecil Beaton, Wallis Simpson wore the dress with royal elegance. Wallis was an incredible figure at the time since she just moved to France with her new husband. King Edward VII of England had abdicated a little before to marry a non-aristocratic and twice divorced figure such as Mrs. Simpson.
The dress became iconic in the fashion industry and it still inspires today. Today, many footwear brands have taken the lobster print and reimagined in their own style.
Here a short collection of the best examples.