Christie’s has announced the sale of the family collection of the Surrealist fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. The auction takes place January 23, 2014, in Paris . This sale is a major event for the international world of fashion, style and design. It is the first time on the market for this family collection, which was inherited by Schiaparelli’s granddaughter, the actress Marisa Berenson. The legendary Elsa Schiaparelli was not only Coco Chanel’s contemporary but also a strong business rival. She was at the heart of avant-garde ideas for over 30 years in Paris and recognised for crossing the world of fashion with Surrealist art. Schiaparelli was a friend, inspiration and collaborator for many artists of the era including Salvador Dali and Man Ray.
Marisa Schiaparelli Berenson, the granddaughter of Elsa Schiaparelli explains: “My grandmother was an inspiration and always has been, and now I think it’s very important for younger generations to know who she was, to have a taste of that wonderful world that she lived in, that she created, that she left behind her. I’m very much one of those people who lives in the present – obviously the past is precious because of everything it means emotionally and because of the legacy one has oneself in one’s genes and the culture and the richness that it’s brought to one’s life, but I think that’s all inside of me and there are certain things that I don’t need to carry around all my life. There comes a time when you want to let go of things, because life changes. I think my grandmother’s personal belongings will inspire future generations; this is an extraordinary and fascinating legacy.”
Pat Frost, Director of Christie’s Fashion Department commented: “To have the opportunity of cataloguing the personal wardrobe of Elsa Schiaparelli is, quite simply, a privilege. Not only is the experience like meeting old friends known intimately from books and photographs – such as the Astrologie blouse – but it is also a peek into the home life of a design icon, where Chinese robes, Ottoman gowns and Persian jackets hung in large numbers in her wardrobe next to couture. Elsa Schiaparelli wore them informally but with a connoisseur’s appreciation of their worth. Many elements indeed are interwoven into her own Couture collections. It has been an added pleasure to have been working with Marisa Schiaparelli Berenson, Schiaparelli’s granddaughter, whose memories of life with her grandmother have been both invaluable and illuminating. We look forward to sharing this fascinating view into the world of Elsa Schiaparelli in January 2014.”
In the 1930s, Elsa Schiaparelli built a house in Hammamet, Tunisia. She spent a lot of time there entertaining, collecting and absorbing local colour. The sale includes two elegant 20th century Hammamet robes which directly influenced her designs (estimate: €1,000-2,000/ £900 – 1,800/ $1,400-2,800, illustrated in the centre). A true ‘Renaissance Woman’, Schiaparelli literally drew inspiration from around the globe. She wore and was inspired by Islamic and Asian costume and the sale features a large collection of oriental robes, together with an assortment of North African, Chinese, Ottoman and Persian costume.
The Personal Collection of Elsa Schiaparelli presents a veritable feast of artworks and objects that reflect their owner’s significant role as a taste-maker. A key trendsetter in the 1930s, Schiaparelli not only contributed her own lively creativity and sponsorship to the contemporary scene in Paris but also enjoyed plundering the past to create baroque counterpoints to the modern (Elsa Schiaparelli illustrated at home, above). This is evidenced in her love of such eclectic delights as baroque furniture, the French Second Empire style – witness the chic lilac-upholstered ‘love-seat’ (estimate: €600-800/ £540-710/$810-1,100, illustrated above) – and blackamoor figures, which all reflect her wonderful sensibility for all that was extravagant and evocative. Schiaparelli used the pieces, collectively, to create an engaging world of fantasy – environments that reflected the influence of Surrealists who prized the imaginative and irrational. She became an inspiration to many, at a pivotal point in the interwoven stories of art and design. Modernist ideas were confronted with alternative sensibilities – neo- romantic, exotic, fanciful, and indulgent. The 30s witnessed a succession of magnificent costume balls that brought together Parisian high society and high bohemia, and Schiaparelli lived the part – adding the spice of her own eclectic eye and inspiration. This very personal collection captures the essence of Schiaparelli – imbuing all of the lots offered with a unique aura.
The 1936 bronze Alberto Giacometti floor lamp which leads the sale as a whole is emblematic of Schiaparelli’s world, reminding us of her close working rapport with designer-decorator Jean-Michel Frank, who helped create her boutique and her apartment and who encouraged Giacometti, Dalí and other artists, with whom Schiaparelli was also close, to create artifacts that were at once functional and expressive (estimate: €60,000- 80,000/£54,000-71,000/$81,000-110,000 illustrated page two).
The collection ranges from an atmospheric portrait of Schiaparelli’s daughter – Countess Maria Luisa Yvonne Radha de Wendt de Kerlor, better known as ‘Gogo’ Schiaparelli – by Leonor Fini (1908-1996), who collaborated with Schiaparelli, notably designing the bottle for her famous perfume Shocking in 1937 (estimate: €30,000-50,000/ £27,000-45,000/$41,000-67,000, illustrated below); to a group of three Louis XVI chinoiserie wool Aubusson tapestries, after François Boucher (estimate: €20,000-30,000/ £18,000-27,000/$28,000-41,000, including A Chinese Dance, illustrated below centre and above the fireplace in the photograph of Elsa Schiaparelli at home). A series of ten photographic portraits by Man Ray (1890-1976) includes the solarised study Elsa Schiaparelli, circa 1928-30, a favoured image chosen by Schiaparelli to illustrate her memoir, Shocking Life (estimate: €10,000- 15,000/ £9,000-13,000/$14,000-20,000, illustrated below right). Man Ray is a telling artist to associate with Schiaparelli: a Dadaist and a Surrealist, he was also, like her, completely at ease straddling the worlds of commerce and pure creativity. Further highlights include a delightful Marcel Vertès screen, most likely created for the presentation of Schiaparelli’s 1939 Spring-Summer ‘Commedia dell’arte’ collection (estimate: €10,000- 15,000/£9,000-13,000/$14,000-20,000, illustrated page 4 top right). This screen reminds us of the fluidity with which artists in Schiaparelli’s circle were happy to work across media and invest their skill and imagination in all they created – be it an illustration, an object, a piece of furniture, or an environment.