Walking Acid Trips: Schiaparelli & the Surrealists

Elsa Schiaparelli along with Prada are to be the focus of the Spring 2012 Costume Institute Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. This means the Costume Gala Benefit, which will happen on May 7th, 2012, will be a great time for designers and celebrities to look like walking acid trips, esoteric dream figures, and bizarrely beautiful animal totems.

I say this because Schiaparelli was part of, and heavily influenced by, the Surrealist movement. Most people associate the movement with Dali and his dripping, melting clocks, and trippy mustache. While the movement’s spokesperson Andre Breton, and many of his male Surrealist peers, were obsessed with/in fear of/tantalized by their own hyper sexed-up aggrandized view of women, the female Surrealists where much more concerned with exploring their own inner worlds and mythologies.

Portrait of the Late Mrs. Partridge, by Leonora Carrington.

Woman Leaving Pscyhoanalyst's Office, by Remedios Varo.

The Escape, Remedios Varo.

Leonor Fini time-travelled and asked Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton to pose---- is not the title of this painting.

I used those paintings to give you a tiny, brief example of the fantastical insanity and visually captivating essence of Surrealism.  The sense of humor, use of animals, spirits, and the bizarre were all elements that came into play Schiaparelli’s clothing designs.  I certainly wouldn’t mind taking a midnight stroll through an abandoned tower in order to contact otherworldly creatures and/or high-fashion aliens wearing this evening cape:

Elsa Schiaparelli Evening Cape 1938.

Animals, mythic and real, are frequent subjects in surrealism.

"I bumped into Judy earlier at the cafe and she just BUGGED out, I have absolutely no idea why. How RUDE!"

Why play kissy-face with poorly dressed acquaintances when your dress can do it for you? Smooch, smooch!

One of Elsa’s well known designs was in collaboration with Salvodore Dali himself.  Its a little H.R. Giger, a little Cronenberg, meets LBD.

Elsa Schiaperelli Bone Dress, designed with Salvaodore Dali.

Could you imagine if your boss wore the following dress jacket?

I mean, that’s someone you want to bump into at the water cooler.

The following, another Dali collab, is the Schiaparelli SHOE HAT.  Completely absurd, in theory atrocious, in practice surprisingly chic, and totally Surreal:

Honestly, I can’t believe the shoe hat thing didn’t catch on. Public taste is so flawed.

Thankfully, however, I found this image from some movie called Brazil from 1985 that I’ve never heard of and am immediately going to have to watch. If the fashion is the only clever bit about the flick, I’m fine with that.

I mean:

If this conversation is as lively as the get-up, I'd be ENTHRALLED.

In her early 20’s, Schiaperelli published a book of sensual poems that outraged and shocked her family so much they sent her to a convent. At age 22, she went on a hunger strike (already acclimating to fashion!) and fled the convent for London, where she began to build her design career. She became known for being Chanel‘s greatest rival, being called by Coco, “that Italian artist who makes clothes.” (because I suppose Coco makes garrrrrrments. ) When one see’s the simple elegance and refinement in this ensemble, it’s easy to see why Coco got her tweed in a twist:

Moving outside of Elsa’s work, it’s really great to see other designers inspired by the fantasy and magic of the Surrealist movement. The following design by Junya Watanabe is evocative of the flowing, bouncing and geometric robes engulfing many of the figures in Remedios Varo‘s work, as well as Leonora Carrington‘s:

"You bitches can stare out the window all you want, this hooded robe just signed a lease on MY closet."

Stage design by Leonora Carrington; Carrington's home was once filled with sculptures of wild birds, & horses.

Russian designer Svetlana Tegin‘s 2010 collection was inspired by dreams and Surrealism.

Tigin’s line flirts with Surrealism; the faces obscured by the whirlwind of disheveled hair, the sheer flow-y skirts and bared, pale flesh. It all evokes a half-memory—a shadow—while the erect nipples and the thin, tight cotton sweater throws me into Cindy Sherman nightmare territory.

Speaking of scary, lets talk about the Surrealist painter Leonor Fini. She was obsessed with the mystery, grace, and power of cats (but not in the same way Joceyln Wildenstien is). Leonor lived with hordes, droves of cats. This is not my scene, but if I had to be a crazy cat lady, I would want to do so walking around looking like this:

Subtle. And FRESH.

Let’s make headdresses that aren’t indigenous of any culture or nation, but instead originate from an illustrated letter from our future, more devious and successful selves. Because our hair has grown uncomfortable with blanketing our swollen and engorged egos, we need a headdress to let the commoners know that we are, indeed, self-appointed royalty. A simple hat just won’t do.

Birds of a feather.....get turned into a real fierce headdress for Leonor Fini.

The Surreal is perfect a resurgence for 2012. With the media’s over saturation of reality television, and the migraine-inducing pitch of our own reality in general, setting our daily activities on perpetual blast, glazing it over with an America obese in false hopes, I dare say we could use whatever the Surrealist movement could give us—a dream, a nightmare, the inspiration to take the bull by the horns…. or at the very least, to wear them on our head.

Leonor Fini.


Ben McCoy


About xoxobenmccoy

I may not remember your name but I will remember exactly what i was wearing on that day you failed to leave an impression.


  1. Michael von Braithwaite

    This is a post after my own heart

  2. Miles-Gregory

    Reminds me of the fusion of Léonide Massine and Pablo Picasso’s Parade. The poet Guillaume Apollinaire described Parade as “a kind of surrealism” (une sorte de surréalisme) when he wrote the program note in 1917, thus coining the word three years before Surrealism emerged as an art movement in Paris. Thank you for reopening the eyes of creative invention in fashion which is art, kinda trippy.

  3. Pingback: Simon Says: Daily Food Quote, February 9, 2012 | The Rambling Epicure

  4. Hello Collective!
    I am writing from Berlin and I am desperate to find the source of the Leonora Carrington stage set photo featured here. Our feminist art collective wants to feature it in an exhibition in Vienna and I cannot seem to figure out where it comes from. Thanks!!!!! Jen Ray

  5. Pingback: Impossible Conversation: Dispatches from the Met’s Prada and Shiaparelli Exhibit «

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