Dalí and Schiaparelli Invented the Art/Fashion Collaboration—A New Exhibit Celebrates Their Shocking Works – Vogue.com

The catalogue for The Dalí Musuem’s new exhibit, Dalí & Schiaparelli, In Daring Fashion, opens with a list of firsts. Elsa Schiaparelli was the first to design a jumpsuit. Salvador Dalí made the first artist video. Schiaparelli held the first fashion show set to music. Dalí introduced the world to the art hologram. Their first collaboration was a newspaper print of Schiap’s press clippings in 1935. The sense you’re supposed to get as a reader is that these two iconoclasts were more than just a wacky mustache and a shoe hat; they altered the course of art and fashion in the 20th century. Consider this: About 80 years after Dalí and Schiaparelli’s art-meets-fashion projects in the 1930s and ‘40s, Louis Vuitton is collaborating with Jeff Koons, Calvin Klein is working with the Andy Warhol Foundation, and Cindy Sherman’s visage is plastered all over Undercover’s Spring 2018 collection. What’s more is that the irony, the mix of high and low materials, and the multimedia promotional materials that they pioneered are still used by artists and designers today. So the next time you see an Opening Ceremony and Spike Jonze fashion show-meets-dance performance starring the Hollywood stars of our era, you can write a thank you to The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

There, in an Epcot-like glass structure, the American base of Dalí’s oeuvre is tackling his fruitful relationship with Schiaparelli for the first time. Nestled in a top floor gallery painted the indefinable shade of taupe you find right at the horizon line in a Dalí landscape, some of the artist’s greatest works sit beside Schiaparelli’s incredible couture pieces, selected and organized by The Dalí Museum’s director Hank Hine. The installation is not of the Met Gala scale, but you will laugh—or maybe scream, as this reporter did—when behind Schiaparelli’s 1937 Lobster Dress made famous by the Duchess of Windsor and Dalí’s lobster phone, a projection of a lobster wriggles up the wall. Shocking!

The exhibit is divided into themed sections that highlight the parallels and crossovers in Dalí’s and Schiaparelli’s worlds and work. Both started life anonymously: He was given the same name as his parents’ deceased first son, she was named at her christening by a German nanny when her parents failed to come up with any girl’s names. (They were hoping for a boy.) That shared sense of lost identity is perhaps what cast them into the metaphysical and mystical realms. When they met in Paris in the early ‘30s, Dalí was an on-the-rise Surrealist and Schiaparelli well-known designer and a recently divorced single mother. Both were interested in Classicism—the acanthus leaf is a shared motif of theirs—and turning those Greco-Roman ideals on their heads. Each was a master technician, proven by Dalí’s exquisite brushwork and Schiaparelli’s intricate couture beading and tailoring. They both valued irony and shock value, which resulted in some of their most lauded collaborations, like 1937’s Shoe Hat and the aforementioned Lobster Dress (which Dalí wanted shown with a side of mayonnaise). The list of their shared works includes some of fashion’s most surprising and stunning garments, and their creative process seems to be a two-way street, with the designer calling on Dalí to design her perfume bottles, and the artist asking Schiaparelli to interpret his haunting female forms in 1938’s Tear Dress and 1938’s Skeleton Dress.

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Their relationship wasn’t all creme de menthe cheers and monkey fur coats, though—behind the creativity and fabulousness was a mutually beneficial arrangement. “They absolutely recognized each other’s genius and had a deep respect,” says Hine. In Schiaparelli, Dalí gained entrée into the world of Parisian high society and with that came many of his wealthy benefactors. In Schiap herself, he also gained posh conduit for his ideas. (In his biography he wrote that the “divine spirit” of Dalí descended on 21 Place Vendôme, Schaip’s couture maison.) In Dalí, Schiap earned an art world pedigree that other designers, including her rival Coco Chanel, desperately coveted. Together, they were an unstoppable force on the Parisian scene of the ‘30s, he with his slicked back hair, curled mustache, and stunts, she with an cutting wit and those leopard skin boots. Between 1934 and 1936, each appeared on the cover of Time magazine. She was the first fashion designer and businesswoman to do so. But there’s another lens that makes the relationship between Surrealism’s most prolific artist and fashion’s most shocking designer even more interesting.

At the core of Dalí’s and Schiaparelli’s work is an ideological mission to create something new. Both deeply believed that their work in art, fashion, film, advertisement, dance—whatever!—was in service of their quest for newness and novelty. Each wrote extensive screeds detailing the tenets of their beliefs, Dalí’s came in several forms including his autobiography The Secret Life, and Schiaparelli’s in her autobiography Shocking Life. What’s interesting about looking back on their subversive and surreal work is that these pieces were made in a time when it seemed like the world was ending, a time not unlike our own. Surrealism was a vehicle of horror and also a fantastical escape. It was without reason and yet in service of practicality. To be a Surrealist was to revel in contradiction, and Dalí’sand Schiap’s work rejected and reflected the terrors of their world. The Tear Dress is at once a breathtaking garment, a trompe l’oeil trick, and a piece that foreshadows the bodily horrors of war. The same could be said of the Skeleton Dress.

While Dalí’s and Schiaparelli’s sense of irony has persisted in the contemporary era—think of Margiela’s high-low subversions, McQueen’s terrible beauties, or Demna Gvasalia’s haute couture Crocs—their sense of mission and transportive fantasy has maintained less ground. When was the last time a fashion designer issued a manifesto instead of an accessories lookbook? “You don’t have that sense of abandon [today]. That’s really curious because I think there’s a great parallel in the times,” says Hine. “The ideas of going beyond [reality] are even more vital today. Being able to laugh at the ironies of the world, and try to create something new, and try to be uplifting. It’s important. But I’m struck by the kind of blandness of things in fashion today.” But there is hope. Towards the end of a meandering tour, our talk edged towards Thom Browne’s recent Parisian show, complete with exaggerated bodies, pointe shoes, and a human-powered unicorn. The museum director had one word: “Wow!”

Dalí & Schiaparelli, In Daring Fashion is open at The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg Florida from October 14 through January 18, 2018.

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