Advantage in Vintage: In June I was lucky enough to take a trip out to New York, and there I got to see one of the best (most intriguingly presented) exhibitions I’ve been to: “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible conversations” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For me this exhibition was particular exciting as Schiaparelli is perhaps my favourite fashion designer of all time.

Schiaparelli was more than just a designer, she created objects d’art and Balenciaga stated she was “the only true artist in fashion”. Schiaparelli was an innovator in terms of fabric and design, bringing the zip fastening to high fashion and often creating gowns in unusual fabrics.

One collection by Schiaparelli was particularly well represented within the exhibition, this being her 1938 Circus collection. Despite the fact that this collection was designed over 70 years ago, I think it stills hold relevance today.  Even in its day the collection was one of her most popular and whimsical. The theme was widely copied.

The circus collection was launched in February 1938, Schiaparelli “sent the performers skipping up and down the imposing staircase and leaping on and off the venduses’ desks in her dignified showroom…This was the most riotous and swaggering show that fashion had ever seen. Here you paraded in a tall hat and a ringmaster jacket with a high collar, or in tights worn under long narrow black skirts.”

Schiaparelli was well known for her combinations of interesting conversational prints with unusual buttons and detailed embroidery. In her circus collection this was especially true. One of my favourite pieces is this pink jacket, which still looks as modern today. This piece was made from pink silk with the heavy buttons – shaped like acrobats – fastened with screws.

Another interesting point about this jacket is its colour, the bold pink shade was typical Schiap. The designer creating the colour “shocking pink” and used it to define her collections.

A little bit of Schiap trivia too: One of these jackets was worn in 1971 (the example that is now at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum) by the famous model Marisa Berenson (ganddaughter of Schiaparelli) for a fashion shoot in Vogue.

This delightful dress also shows Schiaparelli at her collaborative best. Schiap was well known for being part of the burgeoning European design scene often collaborating with top artists of the day. On this dress she worked with Dali to create the print, designed to resemble torn flesh. An interesting point about this dress is, despite dating to 1938, it actually has a plastic zip. Chunky plastic zips were a prominent feature of Schiaparelli’s dresses and were seen to add to the novelty of her designs.

I also adore this dress  – Wallis Simpson ordered one of these for her wedding trosseau! This is another of Schiap’s bold printed pieces featuring a delightful exuberant circus print, which is almost childlike, highlighting the sense of fun behind Schiaparelli’s collections. The dress had a matching veil which could be wrapped over the wearer in a variety of ways.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Philadelphia Museum and New York’s Metropolitan Museum all have extensive collections of Schiaparelli’s work. I highly recommend checking out their websites for more information on the enigmatic designer.

Advantage In Vintage is Liz Tregenza, a vintage collector and fashion historian.
Not only does Liz love vintage but also the social history connected to the clothes.
Liz primarily collects garments from the Forties and Fifties and has a passion for novelty print textiles.


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