While not a new book, this autobiography was originally published in 1954, it has been reproduced, this year, by the V&A Museum with a cover illustration by their Student Illustrator of the Year, 2017.
Elsa Schiaparelli is an illusive pillar of fashion. While we know the name - pronounced skap-ə-REL-ee - we don’t really have many images of her. She’s not a fashion character like her contemporary, Chanel. The image in my head is of a dark haired woman wearing a 1930s-type velvet dress with a sculptural hat, but, other than that, she’s fairly anonymous.
V&A - Shocking Life: The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli - £8.99
Italian by birth, but French in her sartorial spirit, she’s a stylish rolling stone who gathers no moss, moving between countries like a migratory bird. She falls into fashion and runs with it. She talks about herself in the third person and, while not a stickler for dates, you get a rough idea of the time by events like the war and the Queen’s coronation.
The book is a whirlwind trip of her life journey up until 1954 when she closes her couture house. She lives until 1973.
Schiaparelli feels like a free spirit who has the confidence to design what she wants and follows her instinct, but she isn’t hung up on the idea of ‘fashion’. It just comes naturally to her. She was the first to use shoulder pads, animal prints and was the inventor of ‘shocking pink’, hence the name of the book. She collaborated with artists including Jean Cocteau, Alberto Giacometti and Salvador Dalí, producing windows and interesting pieces for her fashion label.
She resonates through fashion today. Her first perfume, Shocking by Schiaparelli, was in a bottle shaped like a female torso. Jean Paul Gaultier? She produced newspaper printed fabrics. John Galliano at Dior? And pioneered the idea of playfulness and unusual motifs. Martin Margiela?
She’s made me want to visit Hammamet in Tunisia, where she retires to, and she’s the kind of character you would watch and take note of whatever she does, wherever she goes or whatever she produces.
Schiaparelli, as a brand, has so many tropes it’s a shame it didn’t have a renaissance like Chanel. It would have made for far more interesting fashion. Can you imagine somebody like Galliano at Schiaparelli? So good.
The name was bought in 2007 by Diego Della Valle, who owns the Tod’s brand, but, it wasn't until September 2013 when Marco Zanini was appointed as the head designer. It hasn’t really made any impact and feels like something somebody should have done 40 years ago. It’s much harder to make any inroads, today, with fashion so saturated, regardless of the history or pedigree.
Schiaparelli isn’t too worried about the details and you get a feeling she knows she’ll always land on her feet. The book is an enjoyable look into French couture and how the Second World War affected it from the shocking pink lips of a woman who pioneered an adventurous and surreal way of dressing. Lobster, anybody?
This article isn’t a discussion on the pros and cons of real fur and offers no moral viewpoint on its use. I acknowledge that this contentious issue/material is divisive and has passion on both sides.
The real ‘fur’ industry has seen massive growth, since the beginning of this century, driven by international consumers and trims on accessories and coats. It is now a $40 billion industry. It was inevitable that it would have a backlash and there would be a reaction to it, most notably from younger consumers.
I put ‘fur’ into speech marks because it’s a very broad term and while some brands may no longer use mink they continue to use the skins of other animals and there’s no definitive reason for the choice of some animals making the used list and not the others. Read more here - ChicGeek Comment Fur Debate: You Either Use Animals Or You Don’t
Brands such as Gucci, Versace and Martin Margiela have decided to announce they will no longer use real fur. Donatella Versace recently said, “Fur? I am out of that,” she said. “I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion. It doesn’t feel right.”
“Naturally we were disappointed to hear that Versace has said it won’t use real fur in collections. However, the majority of top designers will continue to work with fur as they know it is a natural product that is produced responsibly. When Donatella Versace says ‘I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion.’ presumably her company will soon stop using silk and leather?” says Andrea Martin from the British Fur Trade Association.
“It is disingenuous to claim that leather is a by-product of the meat industry, a cow still had to die to provide the product. Silk cocoons are placed in boiling water to help unravel the thread with the silk worm inside,” says Martin.
Italian accessories brand Furla has formally declared that it will be banning fur from its collections from November of this year, which would coincide with the launch of its Cruise ’19 collections. This follows decisions by Michael Kors and Yoox Net-A-Porter, which has declared that all its stores and websites would be real fur-free zones.
“I think some of the brands have gone fur free under pressure from anti-fur trends, and some are genuinely concerned. If brands don’t want to use animals for fashion then they need to consider leather, exotic skins, silk, sheepskin, makeup and products, all of which use animals. I also think human welfare is important to consider when producing fashion, and this often gets forgotten.” says Rebecca Bradley, a London based fur designer.
So, why are luxury brands really dropping the use of real fur?
I think it is pure economics and the high margin greed of today’s luxury industry. It’s the same reason many restaurants are pushing vegetarian and vegan options: the margins are higher and therefore the profit. By charging slightly lower prices for something which is much cheaper to make, the margins increase. There are only so many €25,000 full-fur coats a brand will sell and the ceiling price is sensitive, so you can’t factor in the same margins you would on your other products. If you make it in faux-fur you'll get a higher margin and a bigger percentage of profit. You’ll also sell more and probably generate more money overall.
The irony is, the reason a real fur coat is so expensive is because of the high welfare standards of the European producers. Luxury brands wouldn’t be able to use cheaper real-fur from other sources witout criticism and scrutiny.
“Fur coats may seem expensive, however the price of a fur coat should reflect a high standard of animal welfare, and therefore with a beautiful, high quality fur, many skilled people are involved with production, including a furrier, and finisher to create a fur coat that will last for many generations, ” says Bradley.
Fur, for the majority of brands, is a very small part of their businesses and therefore it’s not difficult to heroically declare you’re no longer going to use it. It’s also easily replaced by a cheaper, synthetic alternative while not altering the price very much or at all. You can paint the use of a fake fur trim as an ethical choice rather than a cost saver to the consumer. It’s cynical I know, but it’s working.
PETA’s Director, Elisa Allen, says, “Fur is dead, dead, dead. As well as making sense for designers' conscience, ditching fur makes business sense, as today's consumers are demanding animal and eco-friendly clothing for which no animal has been electrocuted, strangled, or caught in a steel-jaw trap. From Armani to Versace, the list of fur-free designers is growing every day, and innovative vegan fashion is on the rise. The tide has turned irrevocably, and there's no going back.”
Many brands used the word ‘sustainable’ when announcing their decision to no longer use real-fur, but again, this is another term in fashion that is very broad and has little full meaning until you see the detail. I’m not sure a fake fur coat is particularly sustainable, but then again it does depend on the material.
But, you also have to acknowledge that nobody needs to wear a real fur coat. We could easily survive without real fur, but it’s interesting how, out of all the animal products we use, this is one of the most offensive to some and creates the biggest reactions and protests.
The real fur industry continues to grow in China and with other newly rich consumers and markets. It is now a US$17 billion-a-year industry in China and Haining, near Shanghai, is its hub.. Fur companies will be a bit like tobacco companies: the falling sales in established markets will be replaced by growing sales in new and even bigger markets in Asia.
Chinese animal welfare standards are very different from European standards. European producers have very strict regulations and it’s an industry which has to be transparent in order to ward off criticism.
“We respect the fashion industry’s attempts to become more responsible for the products they produce. Animal welfare is of critical importance and the fur produced is farmed to the highest welfare standards.” says Martin.
“With growing concern about the environment and plastics we believe it is more responsible to move back to the use of natural, biodegradable materials. Fur is the natural and responsible choice for designers and consumers.” says Martin.
Ditching fur is quite a lazy way for luxury brands to try to be more ‘sustainable’ and look like they care about the environment.
“I think that companies and consumers becoming educated and aware of origins of products and materials is a fantastic thing, but the focus needs to be across the board, ensuring standards of human, or animal welfare and environmental impact.” says Bradley.
Many brands are seeing real fur as something they live without and it’s more hassle than it’s worth if the profit and quantities aren’t there. You can pick holes into both sides of the fur debate. While a positive move for many, the decision to no longer use real fur is really a cleverly spun business decision and driven by their continued obsession for huge margins.
Read more expert ChicGeek Comments - here