“Story-tailoring” Schiaparelli exhibition at Villa Noailles

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“Dress designing, incidentally, is to me not a profession but an art.
I found that it was a most difficult and unsatisfying art,
because as soon as a dress is born
it has already become a thing of the past. “
Elsa Schiaparelli, Shocking Life
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Elsa Schiaparelli and Marie-Laure de Noailles had deep common ground. Both women of style succeeded in creating their own persona: one through her fashion house, the other through the numerous artistic projects she instigated, as either a patron or a protagonist. They shared the same artist friends. Working with Dalí, Cocteau, and Man Ray was the catalyst for iconic collaborations. These two determined personalities allowed the worlds of fashion, cinema, and fine arts to flourish with an unprecedented freedom. Remaining defiant towards convention, their passion and audacity for a resolutely innovative creativity, made the expression of their extra-ordinary visions possible.

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Rewind to 1927 – Two seemingly unconnected events… and yet both focus on the sportif, freedom of the body and modernity. Elsa Schiaparelli started in Haute Couture that year with black and white sweaters bearing a trompe-l’oeil bow tie. Marie-Laure de Noailles added to her Robert Mallet-Stevens villa in Hyères a swimming pool once again designed by the architect. Two elements who would give rise to artistic experimentations, whether surrealist or avant-garde, as magnificent as they are unsettling, in Haute Couture as in art-house cinema.

Fast-forward 2017 – The swimming pool of the villa Noailles introduces a Schiaparelli exhibition. The starting point was a portrait of Marie-Laure wearing a jacket by Schiaparelli and photographed by Man Ray. Jackets are one of Schiaparelli iconic creations. Marie-Laure had not misjudged. Man Ray, the first friend-artist to have photographed Elsa Schiaparelli when she lived in New York around 1920 hadn’t either.

The cut, the architecture of the shoulders, incandescent or ultra-matte Lesage embroideries, innovative materials, fabrics custom made for the house, abstract or narrative patterns, a contrasting of noble, ordinary, or unexpected materials, fancy or graphic buttons all make Schiaparelli tailoring a genuine canvas for stories.

The exhibition presents the creations of Bertrand Guyon, style director of Maison Schiaparelli. They highlight his take on permanently playing with the feminine and the masculine, rigour and dream-like fantasy, elegance and allure. Nonetheless the aesthetic vision and the imagination are nothing without the expert craftsmanship of the atelier, where hand and spirit must totally blend with the original stylistic intention. The Schiaparelli jacket fully merges the narrative and the savoir-faire in an absolute symbiosis.

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A unity of location and space, but not of time – When staged, Schiaparelli jackets become like contemporary characters whose roles create a parallel to the films shot by Man Ray or Dalí in black and white in the swimming pool almost ninety years ago. Today, their acts show eclectic themes. Louise Bourgeois-inspired cobwebs, Jean Cocteau-inspired face-to-face profiles, and Guy Bourdin’s pop sensuality alternate with zodiac, suns, palm trees, irises, and other pierced hearts.

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Epilogue – Alongside Schiaparelli’s tailoring, is a shocking pink silk chiffon dress which whirls giving life to the intensity of this hue. An irony of chance or an unexpected link: beneath the pool, Marie-Laure had her reading room painted a blush pink.

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