Surrealist Chic: The Golden Age!

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Mae West Lips Sofa by Salvador Dali, in cross-influence with fashion guru Elsa Schiaparelli.

In 1930s Paris, something clicked, and a fashion revolution was born.  Between the playful flamboyance of the ‘20s and the stark edge of modernism, haute couture and Surrealist art converged into a golden age of the French avant-garde.

Nobody embodied this intersection quite like Italian-born Paris designer, Elsa Schiaparelli.  Schiaparelli was the anti-Chanel, with a knack for making the outrageous seem effortlessly stylish.  Coco Chanel’s philosophy was always to take off the last accessory you put on.  Elsa Schiaparelli’s was to take off the last accessory, and put on a freakin’ lobster instead.  Chanel called her “that Italian artist who makes clothes.”  


It is unclear whether Chanel was praising Schiaparelli as a conceptual artist, denigrating her skill as a designer, or both.  Either way, Schiaparelli was a visionary, fearlessly committed to the art of fashion over function.  She was like Coco Chanel, Salvador Dali and Meret Oppenheim all rolled into one.  In fact, she collaborated with the latter two, as well as Man Ray, and artist/filmmaker Jean Cocteau.  Here are a few of our favorite collaborations.


Great minds think alike: Elsa Schiaparelli with Salvador Dali.


Tears Dress by Schiaparelli with Salvador Dali (spring 1938), in the Victoria and Albert Museum (left).  Detail from Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in their Arms the Skin of an Orchestra by Dali (1936, right).


Lobster Dress by Schiaparelli with Dali (spring 1937), in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (left).  Photograph of Dali from Dream of Venus series (1939, top right).  Lobster Telephone by Dali (1938), in the Tate Britain (bottom right). 

Lobsters: the must-have accessory for every modern woman!


Shoe Hat by Schiaparelli with Dali (winter 1937/38), in the Victoria and Albert Museum (bottom left), and contemporary photograph and sketches (top/bottom right).


Coat by Schiaparelli (spring 1939), in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (left).  Fair Weather by Man Ray (1939), in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (right).


Woman’s Gloves by Schiaparelli in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (winter 1936/37, top left).  Gloves by Schiaparelli (circa 1936, bottom left).  Hands painted by Picasso, photographed by Man Ray (1935, top right).  Fur Gloves with Wooden Fingers by Meret Oppenheim (1936, bottom right).  

Taking the manicure to the next level.


Gloves by Schiaparelli (summer 1939), in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

 These are a departure from the others, but they’re just too badass not to include.


Monkey fur boots by Schiaparelli, (1938, top).  Fur Bracelet by Meret Oppenheim (center).  Object by Meret Oppenheim (1936), in the Museum of Modern Art (bottom).  

Fun with fur!  Even PETA would have to approve of this much awesome.


Evening Jacket and Coat by Schiaparelli with artist/filmmaker Jean Cocteau, (fall 1937).

For more of the height of Surrealist chic, stay tuned to find out what happens when Nazis take all the fun out of everything (as Nazis tend to do), and the golden age of Surrealist fashion meets the Golden Age of Hollywood!

By: Griff Stecyk

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Griff Stecyk


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