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Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973)

SHOCKING' perfume bottle with glass domed case and pink cardboard box, 1937

Catalogue essay by Sacha Llewellyn

In 1937, Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) asked Leonor Fini (1907-1996) to design a flacon for her new perfume. Fini’s presentation – a dressmaker’s dummy based on Mae West – was made up of no less than 20 separate parts – including tiny glass flowers made in Murano – and apparently it took 30 women to assemble it. ⁠The bottle was then housed in an elegant glass domed case with a pink velvet cushion and a delicate printed white lace pattern. ⁠The whole creation was packaged in a ‘shocking’ pink presentation box lined in ‘shocking’ pink satin. In her autobiography ‘Shocking Life’, Schiaparelli wrote: ‘The colour flashed in front of my eyes. Bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life-giving, like all the light and the birds and the fish in the world put together, a color of China and Peru but not of the West-a shocking color, pure and undiluted’. ⁠Jean Paul Gauthier once said that his ‘Classique’ perfume torso bottle was inspired by his grandmother’s perfume – we can only assume what scent she used.

SHOCKING' perfume bottle with glass domed case and pink cardboard box
Schiaparelli, Elsa

Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973)

Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was a fashion designer from an Italian aristocratic background. She created the house of Schiaparelli in Paris in 1927, which she managed from the 1930s to the 1950s. Starting with knitwear, Schiaparelli's designs celebrated Surrealism and eccentric fashions. Her collections were famous for unconventional and artistic themes like the human body, insects, or trompe-l'œil, and for the use of bright colours like her "shocking pink". She famously collaborated with Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau. Along with Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, she is regarded as one of the most prominent European figures in fashion between the two World Wars. Her clients included the heiress Daisy Fellowes and actress Mae West. Leonor Fini (1907-1996) was an Argentinian born Italian surrealist painter, designer, illustrator, and author, known for her depictions of powerful and erotic women. Her first major exhibition was in 1936 in New York at Julian Levy Gallery. Fini was part of a pre-war generation of Parisian artists, and very important in the Surrealist movement though she is sometimes overlooked in favour of her male contemporaries. Fini never officially joined the Surrealist movement though she did show her work alongside other Surrealist artists. In 1943, Fini was included in Peggy Guggenheim's show Exhibition by 31 Women at the Art of This Century gallery in New York.