4 Extra Debut. The story of the undisputed fashion queen in the 1920s – anyone who was anyone wore her unique designs. Read by Abigail Thaw.
During the glittering 1920s and 30s, Elsa Schiaparelli was the undisputed Queen of Fashion. Everyone who was anyone, from Vivien Leigh to the Duchess of Windsor, entered her doors on the Place Vendôme and obediently wore whatever she instructed.
Her clothes were beautifully made, but they were also designed in a manner no one had seen before - buttons that looked like butterflies, mermaids or carrots, trompe l'oeil pockets that looked like lips, gloves with red nails appliquéd on them. She was unique.
Born into a prominent Italian family, she moved to London and married a supposed Polish count who, it transpired, was really a French con-man. His deportation during the First World War saw them move to New York, where he abandoned Schiaparelli and their baby daughter. Undaunted, she picked herself up, moved to Paris and launched her meteoric career, surviving the Second World War despite being under suspicion of spying from both sides.
Her story is one of pluck and determination, talent and great imagination. Along with Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, she was one of the few female figures in the field at the time. And her collaborations with artists such as Man Ray, Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau and Alberto Giacometti, elevated the field of women's clothing design into the realm of art.
Reader: Abigail Thaw
Written by Meryle Secrest
Abridged by Libby Spurrier
Produced by Joanna Green
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast in December 2014.
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