Tag Archives: Schiaparelli

Sportswear Innovation – Culottes, 1930s

One of my latest finds looks like a dress, but the skirt is actually culottes. I first spotted this on Instagram and then I stalked the listings of LittleStarsVintage until she listed them. We don’t think much about culottes these days unless they are undergoing one of the many revivals of the style.  But in the 1930s, culottes were news.

In 1930 pants were being worn more and more by women, but they really were still mainly for sports, the beach, and the home. Wearing pants on the street shopping was still frowned upon in most places.

In 1931 Elsa Schiaparelli designed and made a culotte skirt and she actually wore it on the streets of London. I’m so glad that moment was documented. The same year she made a pair for tennis star Lili de Alvarez who was roundly criticized for wearing them in a tournament.  These photos are from Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli by Dilys E. Blum. I highly recommend it.

I think Schiaparelli’s pair looks like beach pyjamas that have shrunk to just below the knees. By 1931 the straight legs of the pyjamas of the 1920s had morphed into wide-legged bell-shaped legs. Could that have been Schiaparelli’s inspiration for the shape of her culottes?

My pair dates to the second half of the 1930s, and is made from a cotton print of coins. The red rick-rack is a casual touch, and marks this as a dress that might be perfect for a picnic or as a house dress. A very brave woman might even wear it to the market.

A machine stitched hem pretty much confirms this was a commercially manufactured garment. The seller had previously sold a very similar dress which had a size tag, something this one does not have.

It also has machine-made buttonholes which points to a manufactured product.  I can’t help but wonder why black thread was chosen.

Besides the culotte skirt, this dress has another feature that makes this appropriate as sportswear – a pleated sleeve. I love this sleeve, which I first encountered in an early 1930s blouse pattern.  Sleeves made in woven fabrics often have a stiff and uncomfortable feel, but this sleeve is loose and airy without looking frilly or silly.

Culotte patterns were also available to the home sewer.  This Hollywood pattern is not dated, but the original owner wrote “May 12, 1936” on the envelope.

And I refuse to believe that anyone has legs that long!





Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Schiaparelli for Catalina Swimsuit, 1949, Part II

Click to enlarge


In reading about the Schiaparelli for Catalina swim suit I recently bought I discovered that, according to an advertisement, that this suit was the “Official Swim Suit of the Atlantic City Miss America Pageant.” That sent me on an internet search to see if I could actually find photos of the contestants wearing this particular suit.  When I came up  empty I just assumed that it was Catalina suits in general that were the official suit of the pageant.

To my surprise and delight, I got the above photo in my inbox last night.  Julie of Jet Set Sewing saw my Schiaparelli suit and thought it looked familiar.  Then she realized that a photo of the 1948 contestants wearing the suit was hanging in her home.  Julie’s husband found the photo in a shop in Paris.

As you can see, it is the Schiaparelli swim suit, but with the addition of the Catalina flying fish logo.  And even though this was the 1948 Miss America contest, the suit was not made commercially until the next year.  Thus, all my searches for “Miss America Catalina 1949” brought up a different set of swim suits.

Even though the power of Google is great and it so often leads us to the correct information, it makes me happy that it was a friend who provided the breakthrough on this one.  Thanks, Julie!

Click to enlarge



Filed under Curiosities, Rest of the Story, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Schiaparelli for Catalina Swimsuit, 1949

Some people might think that designer collaborations with mass market manufacturers is a new idea, but they actually go back at least to 1916 when Lucile’s – Lady Duff-Gordon – name began appearing the the Sears Roebuck catalog.  By the 1930s California swimsuit maker Catalina was calling on the designers of Hollywood films to do an occasional suit for them.

I haven’t been able to find any concrete information about the Schiaparelli for Catalina collection, except for the fact that it was in 1949.  The suits were widely advertised so there is a good record of the various suits designed by Schiaparelli.  It’s interesting that I’ve not found reference to this collaboration in any of my print sources, including Schiap’s autobiography, Shocking Life, and the catalog that accompanied the 2003 Shocking! exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In an ad in the Spokane Daily Chronicle, May 13, 1949, this suit was touted as the “Official Swim Suit of the Atlantic City Miss America Pageant.”

The best fitting swim suit in the county… and hailed by the nation’s prize-winning beauties!  It’s “Cable Mio,” designed by the world-famous Schiaparelli exclusively for Catalina!  White wool cables on Celanese and Lastex Knit.  It’s a convertible – can be worn with or without straps.

The design is achieved purely through the cutting of the fabric to form chevrons.  It’s amazing the effect that can be made through a bit of creative planning and stitching!



I’m sorry about of the quality of this 1949 ad.  It’s a scan of a scan…  I’m still trying to locate my original and I will post a better image when I find it.

Purchased from Ballyhoo Vintage, who always has a great selection of vintage swimwear.


Filed under Designers, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Looking at Christian Lacroix

The news last week that Christian Lacroix would be designing a fifteen piece collection for the designer-less house of Schiaparelli was met with guarded optimism by many fashion lovers.  For others, it seems a sacrilege to try and reinvent the name of a long-dead designer.

The practice of keeping a fashion business alive after the death of the namesake designer is not new.  A good example is Lanvin.  When Jeanne Lanvin died in 1946, her daughter kept the business going, and in 1950 hired Antonio del Castillo to be the designer.  He was replaced by Jules-Francois Crahay in 1962.  After he left in 1984, there was a revolving door on the designer’s office at Lanvin until 2002 when Elber Alvaz took over and made the label what it is today.  Alvaz’s work is usually highly praised, but it rarely has anything to do with the work of Jeanne Lanvin.

When Coco Chanel died in 1971, the House of Chanel was in trouble.  It was not until Karl Lagerfeld became the designer in 1983 that Chanel regained its place at the top of the fashion heap.  Unlike what happened at Lanvin, Lagerfeld is continually recycling and reusing the shapes, fabrics and motifs that were associated with Coco Chanel.   A modern Chanel suit really does not need those CC logo buttons as the product is usually so recognisable as “Chanel.”

I think that a complete resurrection of a label is a bit trickier.  This is not the first time the Schiaparelli name has been reinvented.  In 1977 there was a failed attempt to reopen the house, and there were a few licenses for lingerie and perfumes during that time.

After hearing the news, I got out an old favorite book, Christian Lacroix: The Diary of a Collection.  The book is actually a scrapbook that Lacroix kept while working on his Spring/Summer 1994 couture collection.  It is a wonderful look into how he developed his ideas, starting with a Directoire era print that was hanging in the lobby of his studio.  From there he began to see colors and shapes repeated in 1940s photos and garments, and he brought into the mix his own experience of how in the 1970s there was a nostalgia for the 1940s.  So it is quite fair, but highly simplified,  to say the collection was 1790s meets 1940s meets 1970s.

Lacroix assembled photos of what gave him an initial inspiration, along with fabric and lace swatches, and his sketches.  For many of the garments in the collection, there are Polaroids of the piece as it is developed on the model.  And at the end of the book there are runway pictures showing the finished products.

This photo of a Provencal bonnet with its insertion lace and pin-tucks and pleats inspired the dress sketched below it.

There’s the original sketch in the center of this page, with a more developed one to the left.  You can see the dress in progress on the left, and at the bottom are photos of some of the materials used.

And this is the dress as it appeared on the runway.  Would you have guessed that the inspiration was a bonnet?

Another starting place was the photo of an old Spanish man.  Lacroix was attracted to the mix of pattern, and to the right you can see the fabrics he chose that gave the feel of the photo.  The Polaroid shows one use of the fabric.

Lacroix’s sketch of the jacket includes the entire look, including thoughts about hair and shoes.

For the finished look he managed to use all the fabrics he had chosen.

I think it will be quite interesting to see how Lacroix reinterprets the work of Elsa Schiaparelli.  As you can see from the examples, his work will not be a literal translation of  Schiaparelli’s garments.  He told the New York Times that he was interested in the contrasts evident in Schiaparelli: “High and low, sophistication and naïveté, black and color, austerity contrasting with a fantasy, the luxury of high society and a sense of the people’s choice.”

I’m intrigued.

All photos from Christian Lacroix: The Diary of a Collection, Patrick Mauries, Simon & Schuster, 1996


Filed under Designers, Viewpoint

Currently Reading: Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations

One of my souvenirs of my NYC trip was this book from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The book is the companion to the exhibition of the same name that was held last summer at the Met’s Costume Institute.  Impossible Conversations was about the similarities and the differences of the two Italian designers, and by most accounts, the show was not a roaring success.   There were a series of themes, and for each a film was shown. An actress portraying Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada herself sat on opposite ends of a table “discussing” each topic.  I did not see the show, but many reviewers found it to be a bit weird, and definitely contrived.  I have watched Youtube bits, and they do come off as a bit awkward.

At any rate, after the Alexander McQueen blockbuster of 2011, it must have been a great disappointment for the Costume Institute.  The attendance was much less than expected, with hardly a line at most times, which was great for people who love to go and think about what is being presented.  When I was there last week, the museum store had huge stacks of the companion book which had been reduced to $10.   Oddly enough, the book is priced at $40.50 on the Met website, so if you are in the New York City area, I suggest you drop in to pick up a copy.

The book is also divided into the themes of the show, but instead of the impossible conversations, there are appropriate passages from Schiaparelli’s Shocking Life and from interviews with Miuccia Prada.  You really don’t get the feel of an actual conversation, which eliminates some of the criticism of the exhibition.  The book is well laid out, with the words of the designers being printed on little inserted pages.  The photographs are stunning, especially of the Prada clothing.  One thing that bothered me is that most of the Schiaparelli garments are shown in vintage black and white photos.  I would have preferred more colored modern photos of the clothes, but I can see that the purpose was to let the reader see the garments as they were actually worn.

You were often shown a detail in color, along with a vintage photo of the same garment.

It was the detail shots that really brought the clothes to life.  I’ve seen dozens of photos of the Prada dress on the left, but a close up shot shows the richness of the fabric and the embroidery.

To me, one the most interesting parts of the book was a discussion about Surrealism.  Schiaparelli, of course, embraced the label, but Prada insisted that she was not influenced by it, nor by Schiaparelli’s work.  Even her 2000 spring collection which included prints of lips and hearts was, she said, referencing Yves Saint Laurent.  The print on the cover of the book was actually from that collection, but it sure looks Schiap-inspired to me.

So, who says you can’t find a bargain in the city?

I also want to say a few words about the Met and the Costume Institute.  Am I the only person who thinks it is ridiculous that they have only one fashion exhibition a year, and that it is on display for a few short months?  The website says that it is due to the sensitive nature of textiles that items from the collection are rarely on view, but with over 35,000 objects, each could be on display only once every 50 years or so!  And now that the Costume Institute has possession of the fashion collection from the Brooklyn Museum, most of it will never again be on view.

It is great that so much of the collection of the Costume Institute is available to view online, but it just is not the same as seeing the object in person.  It really makes me appreciate the efforts of Kent State, The Mint Museum in Charlotte, and The Charleston Museum, who always have fashions and textiles on view.


Filed under Currently Reading, Designers, Viewpoint

Shopping Heaven – Brevard, NC

A couple of weeks ago I posted about driving over the mountain to Brevard, NC to meet up with Mod Betty from Retro Roadmap.  In the comments, Hollis mentioned that she’s been wanting to get to Brevard, and it reminded me that I really needed to do that myself.  Though the town is close to me, it’s a roundabout trip to get there due to the mountains, so I tend to neglect visiting as often as I should.  But I did make time last week, and I’ve now determined that I must get over there much more often.

Brevard is a small town of around 7600 people, though the population is higher in the summer when the summer residents are there.  The town really benefited several years ago when it was named in one of the first surveys of great places to retire, and so today it is thought of as a retirement town.  As any good thrifter will tell you, thrifting is best in affluent communities.  Many of the retirees are affluent, and they have time on their hands, and so there are quite a few privately run thrift stores for local charities.  It makes for a very good shopping experience.

The town has two antique malls, and several other stores with booths, some of which have old stuff.  There are vintage clothes scattered around, mixed in with newer wares.

If I were a knitter, I might have wanted this little charmer as a mascot.

Paris and fashion and the early 1960s.

And while the antique malls are fun, where Brevard really excites is in the thrifts.

Yes, I bought this 1920s Whiting and Davis bag in a thrift store.  I did not get it for $2, or anything crazy like that, but the price was far under what it would have been at an antique store, and the thing is in almost perfect condition, right down to the silk lining.

Another store down the street had this copy of Elsa Schiaparelli’s Shocking Life.  I already had a copy, but mine is rough, and without the dust jacket.  So I bought this one and will be giving the old copy away in January, so stay tuned if you are in need of that book.

I’m always in the market for some Cecil Beaton, so the first volume of his Diaries was a real find.  I also picked up Oleg Cassini’s autobiography, a 1933 copy of Fortune magazine that features the emerging New York fashion design scene, some 1950s sales brochures from an Asheville department store, Bon Marche,  and a 1983 Vogue.

I was so excited that I finally understood the rush that leads to youtube “haul” videos.  Okay, I exaggerate a bit, but I was a very happy shopper.


Filed under Collecting, North Carolina, Shopping

Ad Campaign – Schiaparelli Perfumes, 1940s

Never one to do things in a subtle way, when designer Elsa Schiaparelli released a line of perfumes and cosmetics, she commissioned artist Marcel Vertès to do her print advertisements.  Full of color and fantasy, these ads are a far cry from the usual “let’s buckle down and win this war” attitude of most of the advertising of the WWII years.  Maybe it was good that someone remembered that people needed a little lighthearted romance in lives that were being consumed with the war effort.  If so, then Schiap certainly delivered.

The ad above is from 1940, and is for the perfume, Sleeping de Schiaparelli.  The perfume bottle actually looked just like the candlestick the woman is balancing on her nose!  Over the years Schiaparelli released a variety of interestingly shaped bottles, including “Shocking” which was a dressform that mirrored the figure of Mae West, and the Book of Hearts, in which the bottle fit into a little book.

The rivalry between Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel is legendary, and I can think of no better way to illustrate the difference between the two designers than to show a typical Chanel No. 5 ad from the same era:

Here is a  gallery of Schiaparelli ads.  Because there are so many, you’ll need to follow the link to see them all.




Continue reading


Filed under Advertisements, Designers