The Triumphant Return of Schiaparelli

How the iconic couture brand went from decades of dormancy to a red carpet staple.

Everything You Need To Know About The History of Schiaparelli

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In the last four years, every major fashion moment on the red carpet seemed to have one thing in common: Schiaparelli. From Beyonce's off-the-shoulder mini dress at the 2021 Grammys to Lady Gaga's hot pink and black gown at the presidential inauguration (to InStyle's award-winning Best Dressed issue cover featuring Zendaya, dressed in you-can-guess-what), the brand has taken on a whole new life since Daniel Roseberry became its creative director in 2019. 

But before pop stars and celebrities helped usher in a resurgence of brand recognition, the iconic fashion house had a lot of history — starting almost a century ago — and it began with an eccentric artist named Elsa Schiaparelli. 

Everything You Need To Know About The History of Schiaparelli

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Who was Elsa Schiaparelli? 

Elsa Schiaparelli was born in Rome in 1890 to an aristocratic mother and an academic father. In her 20s, Elsa attended the University of Rome, where she wrote a sensual poetry book called Arethusa which would set the trajectory of the rest of her life. When her parents found out about the poems, they sent her to a convent in Switzerland, where she went on a hunger strike so she could leave. After they let her, she moved to London and became a nanny before meeting Count William de Wendt de Kerlor.

According to the Schiaparelli brand website, which details her life, the pair married and moved to New York City and had a daughter, Yvonne, otherwise known as Gogo. Gogo contracted poliomyelitis and Elsa's marriage to the count was not going well. She asked for a divorce and moved to Paris with her daughter. There, she hung out in scene-y restaurants where she met creatives like Paul Poiret, a famous couturier. Soon after, she began creating her own designs, pulling from her eccentricities and unafraid to try new things. 

In 1925, she made the sweater that would become the catalyst for her fashion fame, a black-and-white top with a trompe-l’œil motif. 

Everything You Need To Know About The History of Schiaparelli

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How did The House of Schiaparelli begin?  

In 1927, Elsa created "Schiaparelli – Pour le Sport," a collection of knitwear and swimwear. It was a hit because of the innovative blend of luxury and sportswear. She then continued to make fashion that shocked by incorporating unheard-of elements like visible zippers and plunging necklines. She worked with new textiles like crushed rayon crepe and collaborated with iconic artists of the time. 

By the 1930s, her brand had become so big that she had nearly 700 employees and was the first female designer on the cover of an American magazine. She was a contemporary of artists like Salvator Dali, whose Dadaism style of art could be found in many of her designs. 

In the late '30s, she developed the color "shocking pink." According to the archive description of a shocking pink suit at The Met, the color "represented her desire to shock those around her with her unique and sometimes avant-garde designs." 

In the 1940s, during World War II, Elsa moved back to New York City for a few years, handing over the company's reins to a man who worked with her in Paris. When she returned to Paris in 1945, she continued to build her legacy, creating a "Constellation wardrobe" — a concept now commonly known as a capsule wardrobe.

Everything You Need To Know About The History of Schiaparelli

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Closing of couture and the death of Elsa Schiaparelli

By the 1950s, Elsa decided to close her couture house while she worked on costuming for films like Moulin Rouge in 1952 and wrote her autobiography, Shocking Life. In the book, she details her life, from growing up in Rome to becoming a famous designer in Paris. She died two decades later in 1973. After the designer's passing, the brand lay dormant for 50 years, only to be revived in 2013. Its relaunch followed a 2012 exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, which highlighted the brand, and also coincided with Schiaparelli being purchased by Diego Della Valle, the CEO of Tod's.

Schiaparelli 2018

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A fresh start with Marco Zanini and Bertrand Guyon

2013 marked a fresh start of sorts for Schiaparelli. Christian Lacroix produced a couture collection that paid homage to the designer's most iconic creations, which ended up serving as an art installation at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Then, in 2014, Marco Zanini, who previously worked at Rochas, came on as Schiaparelli's new creative director. He produced two collections but left after just one year. Zanini was succeeded by Bertrand Guyon, who already had a robust resume that included Givenchy and Christian Lacroix, and had previously worked at Valentino alongside Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli.

TBT: Scarlett Johansson & Josh Hartnett

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Daniel Roseberry and a new era

In 2019, the brand appointed Daniel Roseberry as creative director — and Schiaparelli quickly became one of the coolest brands on the red carpet. He has remained true to Elsa's surrealist and innovative design philosophy in each collection and custom piece. In many of his designs, he uses structured art, like a gold breastplate bustier seen on Kendall Jenner or a jumpsuit with 3-D flowers blooming out of the neckline, on Cate Blanchett wore at the Venice Film Festival in 2022.

In 2022, the brand showed its haute couture collection, which featured everything from a metal gold cage dress to a silk conical breast gown.

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