Actress Marisa Berenson had the singular good fortune to inherit the wardrobe of her grandmother, maverick fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973). Now Berenson, who starred in the movie Cabaret and is a style icon herself, is to sell Schiaparelli’s personal collection of apparel, furniture and art at Christie’s in Paris on Thursday January 23. “Berenson has worn some of these garments, but the time has come for her to allow others to enjoy them and appreciate her grandmother’s unique sensibility,” says Philippe Garner, international head of photographs and 20th-century decorative arts and design at Christie’s.
Born in Rome to wealthy, stiflingly conventional parents, the rebellious Schiaparelli escaped to Paris, where she collaborated with surrealist artists, notably Salvador Dalí, and fused fashion and art in her work. In the 1930s, she created the disturbing Tear dress with a Dalí-designed print of flayed flesh. “Schiaparelli discarded the traditional rule book of Paris couture,” says Garner. “She injected wit and subversion into fashion.”
The sale reveals her eye for the exotic and decorative, which influenced her work. Who knew she collected Tunisian and Chinese clothing? Indeed, they inspired the 1970s north African and eastern-themed collections of Yves Saint Laurent, a big Schiaparelli fan. Pieces in the sale include one of her Chinese jackets (estimated at €1,500-€2,000, second picture), her own 1940 design for a gilet with rodeo-horse motifs (€10,000-€12,000, third picture) and a Horst P Horst portrait of her (€10,000-€12,000, first picture).
Famously, Schiaparelli’s signature colour was shocking pink – visible in her 1930s design for a feather boa (€1,500-€2,500, fourth picture). It highlights her extraordinary modernity, whose legacy lives on. Think Isabella Blow’s surreal confections, or the 2012 exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art that compared her designs with those of Miuccia Prada.