Described as being "modern and sleek as a skyscraper" Elsa Schiaparelli was a tour-de-force in her day. A fashion designer extraordinaire, who pioneered avant-garde fashion, from knitwear to couture, and collaborated with some of the greatest creative minds of the 20th century, including Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali and Christian Berard.
In the first publication of a book by her granddaughter Marisa Schiaparelli Berenson, with a forword by the master of couture Hubert de Givenchy - Elsa Schiaparelli's Private Album is a magnificent and thoroughly delectable collection of pristine photos and private correspondences, along with extracts from Schiaparelli's memoir.
The book takes us back to a world of sepia tinged glamour, when women were ladies and men were gentleman, the sweet smell of elegant Gitanes and Chanel No. 5 emanates from every page. Starting off with Schiaparelli's childhood and then charting her rise as a creative doyenne.
Born in 1895 to a family of Italian aristocrats and academics, Schiaparelli's upbringing was one where knowledge was highly regarded, her father Celestino Schiaparelli being dean of the University of Rome, her uncle Giovanni Schiaparelli a renowned astronomer and her father's cousin a lauded Egyptologist.
Whilst studying philosophy at the University of Rome, she published a compendium of sensual poems, which sent her socially conservative family into a frenzied panic of shock and disgust, so much so she was sent to a convent, where if she hadn't gone on hunger strike she would have stayed. After escaping to London, and gaining a job as a nanny, Schiaparelli's creativity began to blossom.
A quote from her granddaughter on the poems reads - "To the family the book came as a bombshell. The newspapers got very busy. Extracts from the poems were reproduced all over Italy, even abroad. Every critic chose a different one. Schiap's father considered the whole thing a terrible disgrace and would not read the book."
Elsa Schiaparelli's Private Album is a treasure. With stunning stylised images abound and beautiful, insightful chapters from her granddaughter, the book sheds light on the personal world of this fashionable firebrand. Lifting the lid on a woman changed the face of fashion.
Elsa Schiaparelli's Private Album by Marisa Schiaparelli Berenson, Foreword by Hubert de Givenchy is published by Double-Barrelled Books.