Schocking LifeThis week Queens editor Lena Weber is reviewing the autobiography of daring, unconventional couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, who transformed the world of fashion with her trompe l’oeil knitwear, shoulder pads, surrealist collaborations and love for bright, shocking pink.

Shocking Life: the autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli  by Elsa Schiaparelli
V & A Publications, available on Amazon for £5.40

Schiap, as she called herself, published Shocking Life in 1954, just as she was closing up her legendary shop on the Place Vendôme. Looking back at her career, Schiaparelli talks us through her life chronologically, starting off with her childhood in Italy. Born into a wealthy family – her mother had an aristocratic title, her father was a scholar – Schiaparelli was a bored, under-challenged child with a desire to express herself creatively and break away from the social norms of her time.

After a short-lived marriage and via a stint in the US, Schiaparelli arrived in early 20th century Paris and embarked on her fashion career, her mind set on making a living for herself without the help or support of a man. Soon she was dressing the most fashion-forward of her time from Mae West to Claudette Colbert.

Schiparelli’s acid tongue, witty observations,  unashamed lust for glamour and self-deprecating humour make this book a fascinating read. This is the grande dame of fashion (Chanel who?) telling her life story – often referring to herself in third person – and what a story it is! Although Schiaparelli isn’t an easily likable character I couldn’t resist her little anecdotes about the world of fashion and the stars she dressed, and I ended up feeling a deep admiration for a life lived with such fearless determination and artistic creativity.