Updated: Apr 25, 2021
In the spirit of Women’s History Month, we want to introduce you to another extraordinary jeweler who paved the way for jewelers, both men and women, and encouraged them to use art as the cornerstone of their creations.
Born on September 10th, 1890 in Rome Italy, Elsa Schiaparelli is widely regarded as one of the most prominent figures in fashion. She rivals only Coco Chanel, who was a fierce competitor who pushed Schiaparelli to create daring designs that helped push society out of the despair caused by the two world wars.
While she may have begun her career in fashion. Schiaparelli soon transitioned to jewelry. Just like Coco Chanel, she wanted her fashion designs to have complimentary pieces that accented the clothes and popularized her brand. Schiaparelli is credited with creating wrap dresses and for using zippers in a visible way. Before her designs, other fashion houses hid zippers within the fabric. She was the first to make them a part of the design itself.
Schiaparelli was also a big fan of buttons. She crafted them into all kinds of shapes, such as ships, crowns, and candlesticks. Her use of metal and enamel gradually led her to the world of jewelry. Even today, her creations have held their value and a quick Internet search reveales that a bracelet sells for over $1,000 and can only be bought from resell sites like Etsy or Ebay. The rest of her jewelry is either a part of private collections or is held in museums.
Schiaparelli was inspired by Surrealist art, which was a rejection of rational life. This was the start of jewelers using art as inspiration. Many goldsmiths would say that even the process of creating a piece of jewelry is like creating artwork. It requires planning, patience, and passion. Schiaparelli had all three and her designs both in fashion and jewelry reflected this.
Her rebellious streak was also woven into her creations.
According to Wikipedia, one of Schiaparelli’s most Surrealist designs was a 1938 Rhodoid, which was a newly invented clear plastic. Schiaparelli used this plastic to shape it into a necklace and created metallic shaped insects that she would string onto it. This gave the illusion that the insects were crawling along the neck of the wearer.
According to Schiaparelli.com, when Elsa was younger she wanted to be an actress and studied philosophy. One day she decided to publish some sensual poems that her parents strongly disapproved of. As punishment, they sent her off to a covenant in Switzerland, where in protest she went on a hunger strike. Her rebellion was unusual for women of her time, she stood her ground when others would not. This drove her to emancipate from her parents and move to London where she would formally begin her career.
Schiaparelli’s vision was well ahead of her time, not only as a woman, but as a designer. She was one of the first jewelry designers to publicly declare art as her inspiration. This paved the way for other jewelers to draw inspiration from outside the fashion industry.
Elsa Schiaparelli died in her sleep on November 13, 1973 at the age of 83. Her legacy has been preserved in the high resale value of her pieces and the private collections that continue to honor her work through museum showings.