It’s my job to find the right home for every piece in my collection.
A personal favourite is this Schiaparelli wool crepe gown.
I consider myself to be pretty good at dating vintage fashion but this one baffled me – it has style elements from the ’30s (the column, Goddess silhouette) and the ’40s (notched cap sleeves, the colour and fabric, side metal zipper) but the top designers don’t follow the rules – which is why they’re top designers of course.
Top designers set the trends, sometimes years before the rest of the world catches up and sometimes (particularly the highly creative designers like Schiaparelli) break rules and create unexpected styles.
It was easy to determine that the side metal zipper was a ’50s replacement, but the rest of the construction didn’t reveal any additional clues between the two decades. It didn’t help that the original belt was missing, and it would likely have offered an inventive flourish, perhaps even a surrealist touch like these charming drum buttons I saw at the Musee’ des Arts Décoratifs in Paris recently.
Incidentally, if you love the work of Schiaparelli, the Musee’ des Arts Décoratifs hold her archives and pieces are often on display. And if you love buttons and/or couture fashion, you may be interested to learn that the exhibition is available for touring: attention Australian museums and galleries! It’s quite extraordinary. You can read more about it in my blog post about our recent European sojourn.
So I scoured my books on Schiaparelli and the closest thing I could find was a reference to cobalt wool crepe dinner dresses in 1946. But I wasn’t convinced: the silhouette is so ’30s, surely a great designer like the Schiap wouldn’t be harking back to this style so soon after WW2, when contemporaries like Christian Dior were about to launch his famous New Look?
I presented my gown to the experts at the Vintage Fashion Guild and the consensus was mid ’40s. I accepted the ’46 dating and listed it on the webshop, where it was found by a world expert on the designer, BillyBoy*. Here’s his book on Schiap: “Frocking Life”.
The gown has now found the best home amongst his collection, the largest private collection of Elsa Schiaparelli in the world. Schiaparelli was a family friend of BillyBoy* and he’s loved her designs since finding a hat in a Parisian flea market as a young child.
BillyBoy* kindly shared this photo of his friend the late Celia Grafin von Bismarck wearing a haute couture version of my dress made in 1937.
It was worn with studded gauntlet style gloves and had a pretty blue belt with a stylised fleur de lys.
You can see that it has a long looped train, that you could wear over your hand or your head – my version of the dress has cleverly incorporated this piece into the dress, so it permanently goes around your head like a slight hooded cowl. Very innovative and quite marvellous!
I have learnt that the colour is “frolic purple”, a distinctive colour that Schiaparelli invented in the ’30s (and a counterpoint to the more famous Shocking Pink). It was also available as a lipstick.
So whilst I’m sad to lose this beautiful and rare dress, I’m very happy that it’s gone to the right home, where it will reside amongst great company and be appreciated. Thank you BillyBoy* for telling me more about it, and giving her a good home.
You can read more about BillyBoy* and his fashion collections at his website, Fondation Tanagra.