Elsa Schiaparelli and the art of illusion

In his 1956 autobiography, Christian Dior reflected on ‘the miracle of fashion’, commenting that ‘in the world today haute couture is one of the last repositories of the marvellous and the couturiers the last possessors of the wand of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.’1Christian Dior, Dior by Dior: The Autobiography of Christian Dior, trans. Antonia Fraser, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1957, p. 217. Dior’s reference to the marvellous, one of Surrealism’s central concepts, recontextualises the words of André Breton who in the First Surrealist Manifesto (1924) stated, ‘The marvellous is always beautiful, anything marvellous is beautiful, in fact only the marvellous is beautiful’. Dior recognised that haute couture offered opportunities to push the boundaries of design. Invoking the words of Louis Aragon who saw in the marvellous ‘the eruption of contradiction within the real’2Louis Aragon, Paris Peasant (1926), trans. Simon Watson Taylor, Exact Change, Boston, 1994, p. 204. Dior observed, ‘There is room for audacity in the tradition of couture’.3Dior, p. 217.

Dior’s familiarity with ‘the marvellous’ has origins in his early career as an art dealer and gallery owner in Paris before turning to fashion. At the age of twenty-three he partnered with gallerists Jacques Bonjean and Pierre Colle selling and exhibiting work by many of the period’s leading avant-garde artists including Christian Berard, Salvador Dalí, Alberto Giacometti, Pavel Tchelichew and Man Ray, among others.

Undoubtedly the young art dealer was aware of fashion’s newest star, the Italian born couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, whose meteoric rise was the talk of Paris during the late 1920s. Despite an age difference of fifteen years, Dior and Schiaparelli’s social worlds overlapped and they had many close friends in common. In 1927 Schiaparelli launched her career by selling modernist sweaters hand-knitted by Armenian emigrants from her apartment at 20, rue de l’Université on the Left Bank. They were so successful that by the end of the year she could afford to move across the Seine to larger attic rooms at 4 rue de la Paix. By 1932 she expanded her salon to two additional floors and was turning out seven to eight thousand garments in eight ateliers. The avant-garde interior designer Jean-Michel Frank, a close friend and a frequenter of Dior’s art gallery, was called on to update Schiaparelli’s apartment and salon, and again in 1935 when she moved to 21 place Vendôme. The first collection presented at the new location was titled Stop, Look and Listen, 1935, and left no doubt that Schiaparelli was on her way to rival Chanel as the most successful couturier in Paris. British fashion journalist Alison Settle observed in 1937 that ‘her clothes were universally sought as the perfect expression of the ideas of her age … She has for years been quicker to see into the future than any other designer …’4Alison Settle, Clothes Line, Methuen and Company Limited, London, 1937, p. 14. While Chanel would dismiss Schiaparelli as ‘that Italian artist who makes clothes’, others recognised her importance beyond fashion. Dalí, in The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (1942), described Paris during the second half of the 1930s as represented ‘not by the Surrealist polemics in the café on Place Blanche, or by the suicide of my great friend René Crevel but the dressmaking establishment which Elsa Schiaparelli was about to open on the Place Vendôme’.5Salvador Dalí, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, trans. Haakon M. Chevalier, Dial Press, New York, 1942, p. 340. In an interview for Harper’s Bazaar in 1936 on the two upcoming Surrealist exhibitions in New York, art gallery owner Julien Levy described Schiaparelli as ‘the only designer who understands Surrealism’.6Harper’s Bazaar, Mar. 1937, p. 172.

Throughout her autobiography Shocking Life (1954) Schiaparelli refers to herself as a mystic seeing that ‘her life has been a means to something else – an everlasting question mark’.7Elsa Schiaparelli, Shocking Life, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1954, p. 9. Her beliefs greatly influenced her view of fashion as a transformational process that united the inner self and the outer self. She drew on the Italian folk traditions of her childhood, her extended family’s scholarly interests, Eastern philosophies, religions that ‘directly connected with the source of harmony and creation’,8ibid. p.34. theosophy, the occult and parapsychology. Born into a family of Roman intellectuals, Schiaparelli’s father, Celestino, was a scholar of Arabic and Islamic languages and literature and head of Rome’s Lincei Library; her cousin Ernesto was a famous Egyptologist; and her uncle Giovanni, was a world-famous astronomer and director of the Brera Observatory in Milan, whose other interests in psychic phenomena and spiritualism greatly influenced his niece.

In 1913 at the age of twenty-three, Elsa Schiaparelli left Rome for England to help care for the children of her sister’s friend. On a day trip to London the following year she attended a lecture at the Occult Club on 1 Piccadilly Place. The club offered a range of lectures covering theosophy, fortune telling, palmistry and similar topics, and at the time had in its library a ‘display of posters and notices referring to the psychic side of the present great crisis in the world’s affairs’.9‘Prophecy and the war’, Cheltenham Looker-On, 10 Oct. 1914, p. 18. The speaker that afternoon was William Wendt de Kerlor, the club chairman, who ‘spoke of the powers of the soul over the body, of magic and eternal youth’.10Schiaparelli, p. 41. De Kerlor was immediately drawn to Schiaparelli, who was listening intently, and the two of them spent hours talking after his presentation. By morning they were engaged and wed soon after.11Schiaparelli and de Kerlor were wed on 21 July 1914. A year later de Kerlor12De Kerlor went by several names. When he was deported to France on 9 July 1914 he was referred to as ‘William Frederic Wendt’. was deported from England for fortune telling. The couple retreated to the south of France and in 1916 immigrated to the United States. Meryle Secrest’s13 Meryle Secrest, Elsa Schiaparelli: A Biography, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2014. biography of Schiaparelli traces their ‘fortunes’ over the next few years as they engaged in public demonstrations of hypnotism, fortune telling, and other sleights of hand from New York to Boston. During this period de Kerlor was absorbed with translating Emile Boirac’s Our Hidden Forces: An Experimental Study of the Psychic Sciences (1917) and The Psychology of the Future (1918) from French into English. Schiaparelli is seen in several of the photographs accompanying the 1918 edition, including one where she gazes into a Japanese crystal ball that is captioned: ‘Crystal Gazing. The subject, placing herself in a state of clairvoyance by gazing fixedly into a crystal globe, brings into play remarkable powers of second sight, prophecy, etc., which normally are latent’ (see below).14Emile Boirac, The Psychology of the Future, trans. W. de Kerlor, Fredrick A. Stokes Co., New York, 1918, following p. 258. By 1919 the couple had separated leaving Schiaparelli a single mother with a daughter to support and in 1922 Schiaparelli moved to Paris, a city she had only visited once before on her way to England.

From an early age Schiaparelli understood the power of fashion. Taking to heart her mother’s observation that she was as ugly as her sister was beautiful, Schiaparelli dreamed of ways to transform her appearance. She spent hours playing dress up in the attic of the family’s apartment in the Palazzo Corsini, trying on the beautiful gowns and undergarments that her mother wore as a young woman. She resorted to ever more drastic measures and planted flower seeds in her throat, ears, nose and eyes in the hope that she would become a beautiful garden. Schiaparelli likely relayed this story to her close friend Salvador Dalí who would later reinterpret the account as flower-headed women in three paintings from 1936, two of which Schiaparelli owned15Schiaparelli owned two Dalí works: Necrophiliac Springtime, 1936, and Dream puts her hand on man’s shoulder, 1936. and a third, Three young surrealist women holding in their arms the skins of an orchestra that provided inspiration for their collaboration on the The tears dress, 1938 (Victoria & Albert Museum, London), shown with as part of her summer 1938 Circus collection, summer 1938, which was presented a few weeks after the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme opened in Paris. Like the Surrealists, Schiaparelli was inspired by myths and allegories and especially drawn to their tales of transformation that ‘gave to their goddesses, even when definitely fat, the serenity of perfection and the fabulous appearance of freedom’.16Schiaparelli, p. 64. For example, the summer 1937 collection reimagined Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the Taoist Butterfly Dream Parable attributed to the Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu, follower of the mystic Lao Tzu.17Schiaparelli opens her autobiography with a quote from Chuang Tzu, 400 BC: ‘Birth is not the beginning, Death is not the end’. Wallis Simpson, the most talked about woman of the time and a style icon, fittingly selected eighteen models from the summer 1937 collection to mark her transition from a twice-divorced American socialite to the Duchess of Windsor. With a sly wink to her critics, ‘the bride of the year’ chose to be photographed by Cecil Beaton before her wedding18The wedding date was 3 June 1937. on the grounds of the Château de Candé wearing Schiaparelli’s lobster print dress, 1937 (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia) (see below), designed in collaboration with Salvador Dalí. For many young women Mrs Simpson was the epitome of chic and they eagerly followed the latest news reports on the wedding preparations including details of her sixty-six-piece trousseau.

Schiaparelli’s Metamorphosis collection was the perfect metaphor for the future Duchess whose new wardrobe was carefully selected to soften her public image.  Schiaparelli’s butterfly print evening dress, summer 1937 (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia) (see below), dominated her choices, which included a net-like coat worn over a butterfly print dinner dress and a wool jacket fastened with oversized butterfly shaped buttons. Regarded as one of the period’s jolie ladies,19The phrase is often translated as ‘good-looking uglies’. whose looks subverted traditional ideals of female beauty, Simpson like Marie Laure de Noailles, Daisy Fellowes and Marie Curie were the physical embodiment of the marvellous. Dark haired and strong featured they were known to be the best dressed women in Paris and used fashion to transform their imperfections into chic. As former Vogue editor Bettina Ballard commented:

A Schiaparelli customer did not have to worry 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.20Bettina Ballard, In My Fashion, Secker & Warburg, London, 1960, p. 71.

According to British fashion journalist Alison Settle the ‘born’ beauty is satisfied with her looks and therefore afraid of change, while the ‘made’ beauty moves with the times and looks to the future.21Settle, p. 23.

The metamorphosis of Mrs Simpson was not lost on one of her admirers, Vera Bowler Worth of Bristol who wore her own hair in a similar manner. Prior to her marriage in 1935 to John Wesley Worth, a regional director of Carreras Ltd, Britain’s largest maker of cigarettes, Vera had worked in the ladies’ department of Jones & Co. in Bristol and was well known for her fashion sense. Perhaps it was the Schiaparelli designs that Simpson acquired for her trousseau that prompted Vera to visit the couturier’s salon at 6 Upper Grosvenor Street in Mayfair to select a dramatic dinner suit22‘The dinner suit’ is the period term for an ensemble consisting of a jacket worn over a full-length dress. Hall of mirrors, jacket and dress, 1938 (see below), from the Cosmique collection, winter 1938–39,23The Cosmique collection is often referred to as the Zodiac or Astrology collection. Cosmique, which is the name that Schiaparelli used for it in Paris, better describes the collection. to wear to the company’s annual dinner dance. This ensemble, now in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, comprises an elegant black velvet jacket with modified leg of mutton sleeves worn with a slim full-length dress cut high in front at the neck. The jacket, lavishly embellished with gilt embroidery and small appliqued mirrors was photographed by Horst for the 15 September 1938 issue of American Vogue where it is shown worn with a small ostrich feather hat tilted forward toward the brow and gloves. Possibly the gloves were gold like those worn by socialite Lady Pamela Berry in November 1938, who was photographed wearing the Schiaparelli dinner suit at the luxurious Curzon Cinema in Mayfair for The Bystander. The ladylike look was dramatically transformed when the jacket was removed for dinner and dancing, revealing a backless dress.

Vera’s ensemble would have been among Schiaparelli’s most expensive offerings that season. Marlene Dietrich’s purchased a similar outfit from the same collection for which the invoice survives.24Philadelphia Museum of Art, Schiaparelli Files, courtesy Marlene Dietrich Collection, Film Museum Berlin. She selected a blue velvet dinner suit, its jacket embroidered in gold with the signs of the zodiac (see below), to wear on the SS Normandie in November 1938 on her way to New York. The actress spent a total of 33,455 francs on Schiaparelli’s winter 1938–39 collection, including this ensemble for which she paid 4000 francs. Among the other itemised purchases was an evening dress for 3000 francs and sweaters at 425 francs each. Schiaparelli was acutely aware that haute couture was beyond the means of most women. In a 1937 interview she outlined how it was possible for a woman to be well-dressed woman on 6000 francs a year if she made her own dresses or was helped by her family. She priced a simple evening dress at 400 francs and noted that in 1937, 6000 francs was the equivalent of £111 British pounds or US$500.25Schiaparelli, p. 192.

Schiaparelli dedicated the Cosmique collection, 1938–39, to the worldly woman. According to the spirited press release written by the House’s publicity director Hortense MacDonald, its lines were strictly tailored to fit the body following the principles of ‘Euclidian geometry’ in materials such as moirés, velvets and gilt embroidery that changed with the light and strong contrasting colors that ‘rotated around the sun’, such as ‘Uranus’ canary yellow and ‘aerostatic’ dark eggplant purples. Like all of Schiaparelli’s collections the theme was a mixture of historical references and contemporary events and ideas. The collection touched on astrology, the planets, the constellations, the sun, King Louis XIV, his successor Louis XV, as well as the Gay Nineties and the latest technical innovations, such as multicolored plastic zippers with blocks of different colored teeth. Schiaparelli’s childhood memories were also a source of inspiration. She looked back fondly to the many hours she spent with her beloved uncle, the astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, looking at the planets and the stars. His remarked that the beauty spots on her cheek were arranged in the shape of the Ursa Major, or ‘Great Bear’, constellation, which inspired her to adopt it as her personal talisman. The constellation was embroidered on the dinner ensemble Dietrich purchased and Schiaparelli also configured the stars into a brooch for herself and had it printed on fabric for her salon.

The Cosmique collection was Schiaparelli’s most lavish to date, featuring luxurious velvets and brightly coloured wools embellished with extraordinary gilt metal embroidery. Phoebus Apollo, the sun god who controlled the cosmos, was embroidered on the back of a cameo pink wool cape acquired by Daisy Fellowes; the front of a black velvet cape, made for the legendary decorator and hostess Elsie de Wolfe (Lady Mendel), showed the famous Neptune Fountain at the Palace of Versailles near her home at the Villa Trianon; and a black wool evening coat that celebrated Louis XV’s patronage of the Sèvres Porcelain Factory, presented six rococo vase—shaped pockets embellished with gilt-edged pink and white porcelain flowers (see below). Vera’s black velvet jacket was equally impressive and featured a pair of oversized gilt-framed hand mirrors with handles that curve around the neck. Baroque in style, each mirror comprised twenty-five smaller mirrored rectangles calling to mind the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles where 357 mirrors face a wall of windows. For more conservative clients Schiaparelli offered a wool day suit with oversized buttons in the shape of black plastic hand mirrors.

Schiaparelli’s embroideries were produced by Albert Lesage et Cie, which had taken over the court and theatrical embroidery workshop Michonet in 1924. Her move to 21 place Vendôme helped revive the Lesage atelier following the 1929 crash when styles favoured simple unembellished silhouettes. Schiaparelli’s partnership with Albert after 1935 saved his business and she entrusted him to suggest ideas for each season’s theme. Unlike her contemporaries who used Lesage embroideries as decorative elements, the samples Albert created for Schiaparelli often inspired her silhouettes and she was careful to show his work to its best advantage.

Schiaparelli was fearless in her choice of buttons and worked with leading artisans and artists such as Alberto Giacometti to ensure that the unique fastenings, a hallmark of her designs, added another layer to the story. The five black buttons on Vera’s jacket moulded from a composite in the form of a Greco Roman woman’s head, echoed the season’s classical references. Identical buttons were also used on a velvet jacket embroidered with a shower of gilt and diamante starbursts. It’s likely the buttons were modelled on an image of the goddess Arethusa shown on an ancient Greek coin minted in Syracuse on the island of Sicily around 410–400 BCE. Arethusa and her connection with Syracuse was of personal significance to Schiaparelli. Her father Celestino was a major coin collector and expert on Muslim Sicily while her uncle Giovanni, the astronomer, discovered the double appearance of Arethusa Lacus on Mars in 1888. Arethusa was also the title of a book of passionate love poems she wrote at age twenty-one, which much to her family’s dismay, was not only published but reviewed. One can easily imagine Schiaparelli finding inspiration for her own poetry in the work of the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was buried in Rome and in 1820 dedicated a poem to the myth of Arethusa and Alpheus.

Schiaparelli’s London salon at 6 Upper Grosvenor Street in affluent Mayfair was a far more conservative environment in which to view the latest haute couture collection than 21 place Vendôme with its surreal window displays overseen by Bettina Bergery who Salvador Dalí once described as ‘one of the women of Paris most highly endowed with fantasy’.26Dalí, p. 340. The Mayfair branch offered its clients a selection of the same designs shown in Paris but focused on those suited to the more conservative British taste. Vera’s dinner suit and three single jackets with identical embroidery are known to have survived from the Cosmique collection. Vera’s ensemble and one single jacket were sold through the London salon27The labels Schiaparelli London do not include the season the collection was presented. Under each label there is a tape with a hand-written model number. Four digits identify the models sold through the London salon. Vera’s dinner suit is marked ‘6918’; its jacket has five buttons. The single jacket is marked ‘6139’ and has four buttons. The labels for Schiaparelli 21, place Vendome include the season and a five-digit model number. The two single jackets sold in Paris also have four buttons. although they were not included in the five designs registered for British copyright protection that season.

Surprisingly the other two single jackets with ‘Schiaparelli 21 place Vendôme’ labels are marked ‘Printemps 1939’ although their model numbers are those designated for the winter 1938–39 collection. At the end of each season Schiaparelli’s mannequins or, vendeuses (saleswomen) and favoured clients were offered the opportunity to acquire the salon’s models at significant discounts, which likely accounts for the discrepancy in the labels. Many of the models were well worn by the end of the season since Schiaparelli allowed her mannequins and special friends such as Daisy Fellowes to borrow clothes for the evening so her collection could be seen out in public and commented on by the press. Public scrutiny wasn’t always an advantage. In early 1937 Marlene Dietrich returned an evening dress and cape she hadn’t yet worn after she saw it worn in Heart’s Content at the Shaftesbury Theatre by an ‘an actress with only a very small part in the play’.28Philadelphia Museum of Art, Schiaparelli files, Marlene Dietrich Collection, Film Museum Berlin. The actress was likely Kathryn Hamill who wore a Schiaparelli dress in Act II.

One of the Paris jackets labelled ‘Printemps 1939 and now in the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, originally belonged to Pauline Potter who in 1954 married Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Potter worked for Schiaparelli in London and Paris as a mannequin (saleswoman) between 1936 and 1940 and might have purchased the jacket when it went on sale at the end of the season. A third jacket,29Sold by Christies on 29 November 2012. Born Bertha Davidoff, she married London furrier Cyril Millward in 1931. She separated from her husband around 1939 and changed her name to Brenda Ward. She later married the Tyrol-born artist Herbert Gurschner. Another Schiaparelli ensemble belonging to Mrs Gurschner from about 1937 is in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. now in a private collection, is labeled ‘model 65887’ and includes the name of the client, Mrs Ward. It is said to have belonged to the second Mrs Herbert Gurschner, who later wore the jacket to the opening night of Robinson Jeffers’s adaptation of Medea at the Globe Theatre, London in September 1948. Her husband, a well-known painter, originally from Tyrol, was a stage designer for the Globe and Apollo theatres during the 1940s and 1950s.

In January 1939 Schiaparelli announced that her London salon would close in late July. The last collection she sold at Upper Grosvenor Street was the Music collection, fall 1939, which had been presented in Paris on 28 April. A few months later, in July, the models were offered the opportunity to purchase garments at discount prices; for example, dresses that normally sold for 40 or 50 guineas were now reduced to 15.

The defining feature of Vera’s dinner suit, its mirrors, returns us to the marvellous and the magic of haute couture where anything is possible. Surrealist Pierre Mabille described the mirror as ‘the most banal and most extraordinary magical instrument of all’ that ‘evoke[s] fundamental problems to the identity of self, the characters of reality’.30Pierre Mabille, ‘Miroirs’, Minotaure, no. 11, Edition d’Art Albert Skira, Paris, 1938, p. 11. The original quote is ‘Les miroirs dans le mystère de leurs surfaces polies semblables á des eaux calmes solides, evoquent des problèmes fondamentaux à l’identité du moi, les caracterès de la realité’. Horst’s now iconic portrait of Schiaparelli for American Vogue in 1936 captures this uncertainty. Fashionably dressed in an ensemble from her winter 1937–38 collection she leans out of a stylised ‘mirror’, occupying a space that hovers between the real and the imaginary. Like Alice, Schiaparelli stepped through the looking glass into the parallel world of 21 place Vendôme, which was in the words of Jean Cocteau ‘a devil’s laboratory. Women who go there fall into a trap, and come out masked, disguised, deformed or reformed, according to Schiaparelli’s whims’.31Harper’s Bazaar, April 1937.

The first of The Twelve Commandments for Women that close Schiaparelli’s autobiography exhorts women to know themselves. Schiaparelli however only knows ‘Schiap by hearsay. I have only seen her in a mirror. She is, for me, some-kind of fifth dimension’.32Schiaparelli, p. 9. She recalled a visit to a famous Berlin restaurant where she sees reflected in the mirrors lining the imposing staircase, the image of a chic woman among a crowd of shabby people. The woman reminded her of Paris. ‘Heavens,’ exclaimed her friend, ‘but don’t you recognize yourself’.33Schiaparelli, p. 124. For Schiaparelli, fashion in the end was a masquerade: ‘When you take off your clothes, your personality also undresses and you become quite a different person …’34Schiaparelli, p. 72. It is no surprise that the mirrors of winter 1937–38 were followed in spring 1939 by the Commedia dell’arte collection and its masks.

Maison Schiaparelli closed in 1953 and was reborn in 2016 as Diego della Valle. For the fall/winter 2018–19 haute couture collection, couturier Bertrand Guyon paid homage to the seventieth anniversary of the winter 1938–39 collection by reinventing the Hall of Mirrors dinner suit for the twenty-first century. The original black velvet was now a rich dark blue and the gold embroidery, silver. The floor length dress with its plunging back was transformed into a calf-length skirt slit to the upper thigh. The mirror handles no longer wrapped around the neck, but seductively caressed the hips.

At 21 place Vendôme Elsa Schiaparelli’s ghost continues to wield a magic wand, once more urging women to ‘dare to be different’.35Schiaparelli, p. 25.

Dilys Blum is the Jack M. and Annette Y. Friedland Senior Curator of Costume and Textiles, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.



Christian Dior, Dior by Dior: The Autobiography of Christian Dior, trans. Antonia Fraser, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1957, p. 217. 


Louis Aragon, Paris Peasant (1926), trans. by Simon Watson Taylor, Exact Change, Boston, 1994, p. 204.


Dior, p. 217.


Alison Settle, Clothes Line, Methuen and Company Limited, London, 1937, p. 14.


Salvador Dalí, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, trans. Haakon M. Chevalier, Dial Press, New York, 1942, p. 340.


Harper’s Bazaar, Mar. 1937, p. 172.


Elsa Schiaparelli, Shocking Life, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1954, p. 9.


ibid. p.34.


‘Prophecy and the war’, Cheltenham Looker-On, 10 Oct. 1914, p. 18.


Schiaparellip. 41.


Schiaparelli and de Kerlor were wed on 21 July 1914.


De Kerlor went by several names. When he was deported to France on 9 July 1914 he was referred to as ‘William Frederic Wendt’.


Meryle Secrest, Elsa Schiaparelli: A Biography, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2014.


Emile Boirac, The Psychology of the Future, trans. W. de Kerlor, Fredrick A. Stokes Co., New York, 1918, following p. 258.


Schiaparelli owned two Dalí works: Necrophiliac Springtime, 1936, and Dream puts her hand on man’s shoulder, 1936.


Schiaparelli, p. 64.


Schiaparelli opens her autobiography with a quote from Chuang Tzu, 400 BC: ‘Birth is not the beginning, Death is not the end’.


The wedding date was 3 June 1937.


The phrase is often translated as ‘good-looking uglies’.


Bettina Ballard, In My Fashion, Secker & Warburg, London, 1960, p. 71.


Settle, p. 23.


‘The dinner suit’ is the period term for an ensemble consisting of a jacket worn over a full-length dress. 


The Cosmique collection is often referred to as the Zodiac or Astrology collection. Cosmique, which is the name that Schiaparelli used for it in Paris, better describes the collection.  


Philadelphia Museum of Art, Schiaparelli Files, courtesy Marlene Dietrich Collection, Film Museum Berlin.


Schiaparelli, p. 192.


Dalí, p.340.  


The labels Schiaparelli London do not include the season the collection was presented. Under each label there is a tape with a hand-written model number. Four digits identify the models sold through the London salon. Vera’s dinner suit is marked ‘6918’; its jacket has five buttons. The single jacket is marked ‘6139’ and has four buttons. The labels for Schiaparelli 21, place Vendome include the season and a five-digit model number. The two single jackets sold in Paris also have four buttons.


Philadelphia Museum of Art, Schiaparelli files, Marlene Dietrich Collection, Film Museum Berlin. The actress was likely Kathryn Hamill who wore a Schiaparelli dress in Act II.


Sold by Christies on 29 November 2012. Born Bertha Davidoff, she married London furrier Cyril Millward in 1931. She separated from her husband around 1939 and changed her name to Brenda Ward. She later married the Tyrol-born artist Herbert Gurschner. Another Schiaparelli ensemble belonging to Mrs Gurschner from about 1937 is in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.


Pierre Mabille, ‘Miroirs’, Minotaure, no. 11, Edition d’Art Albert Skira, Paris, 1938, p. 11. The original quote is ‘Les miroirs dans le mystère de leurs surfaces polies semblables á des eaux calmes solides, evoquent des problèmes fondamentaux à l’identité du moi, les caracterès de la realité’.


Harper’s Bazaar, April 1937.


Schiaparelli, p. 9.


Schiaparelli, p. 124.


Schiaparelli, p. 72.


Schiaparelli, p. 25.