Surrealist Chic: The Fashion Empire Strikes Back!

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In 1930s Paris, a fashion revolution was born.  Empress of couture Elsa Schiaparelli, and Surrealist masters like Salvador Dali, Meret Oppenheim and Man Ray collaborated to create a golden age.  However, when the Nazis occupied Paris, avant-garde fashion took a vacation to Hollywood.

The end of the War brought a resurgence of Parisian fashion, but trends had changed.  Christian Dior (who, incidentally, jumpstarted his career by designing for Nazis) dominated the postwar scene with his “New Look,” a throwback to the idealized, ultra-feminine styles of the Victorian era.  Schiaparelli reopened her Fashion House, but a creative radical in the 1950s fashion world made about as sense as a person of color at a Trump rally; sure, they may be a refreshing change, but they are painfully out of place and clearly speaking to an unappreciative audience.  Unable (or perhaps unwilling) to adapt to the princessy ‘50s look, Elsa closed up shop in 1954.


Yet, like a phoenix from the ashes, House of Schiaparelli revived in 2013 and remains the height of chic.  Thanks to the prominence of contemporary icons of Surrealist fashion, the golden age of wearable art is back with a vengeance!


Costume designer Anna B. Sheppard pays homage to vintage Schiaparelli in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009), for the character of fascist film star Francesca Mondino (left). Elsa Schiaparelli in her original leopard hat (right).


Burlesque diva Dita Von Teese artfully blends vintage elegance and Surrealist edge, like Gala Dali in a g-string, harkening back to that more playfully eccentric era.  Here she is performing in a butterfly ensemble, the longstanding surrealist emblem of cute-meets-cool (top left).  Surrealist cover of Harper’s Bazaar (June 1940, top right).  Butterfly Dress by Schiaparelli, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (spring 1937, bottom left).  Hat by Philip Treacy (bottom right).


Lady Gaga (left) gets an A for effort for this homage to Schiaparelli/Dali (left), despite her tendency to choose shock over substance and yet never bring anything new to the table.  Or, as Bette Midler put it, “Darling, you can keep the meat dress, but the mermaid tail is mine.”


Isabella Blow in a hat by Philip Treacy.

Lady Gaga and the late British hat maven Isabella Blow were both muses to neo-Surrealist designer, Alexander McQueen and London milliner Philip Treacy.  Unlike Gaga, Blow carried off the absurd with an effortless sense of grace that harkened back to Schiaparelli.  Sometimes it just takes a Brit to pull off an utterly ridiculous hat. Tragically, Blow committed suicide in 2007 by drinking weed killer at a party.  McQueen committed suicide not long after.


Custom Schiaparelli cape ensemble for Sabine Ghanem’s wedding to Joseph Getty (2015, top).  Wedding veil by Schiaparelli (1938, bottom left).  Cape by Schiaparelli, (1938, bottom right).

Marriage is hardly necessary for the modern woman, but if a girl must marry….marry a freakin’ Getty!  Jewelry tycoon Sabine Ghanem married into the art-collecting oil dynasty last year.  


The weekend-long festivities included a Dangerous Liaisons themed costume ball, a guest-list peppered with supermodels and royalty, a cathedral ceremony in Rome, and this custom-made cloak dress from the new House of Schiaparelli.  As you can see, House of Schiaparelli sticks to Elsa’s original ideas, and they’re doing Madame Schiaparelli proud!

The dress was the cherry on top of the reportedly $11 million affair, and it is said that seamstresses literally fought each other for the privilege of dressing the blue-blooded bride.


Dangerous Liaisons: an appropriate theme from a novel about aristocrats ruining lives for sport whilst peasants starve.

Vive Surrealist fashion!  Vive le 1%!

By: Griff Stecyk

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Griff Stecyk


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