Swipe to spin

Autumn/Winter 1937/38

Evening jacket

Velvet, silk, metal, glass, synthetic lining

Elsa Schiaparelli, Paris, France

Follow the thread


Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the great innovators of haute couture in the 1930s, using it as a canvas for art and humour. Her work with artists such as Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dali resulted in surrealist innovations like an evening dress adorned with a painted lobster, and a hat in the shape of a shoe.

This evening jacket is from Schiaparelli’s Autumn/Winter 1937/38 collection, described in Women’s Wear Daily as a collection ‘full of modern baroque whimsy.’ Schiaparelli was among the first to introduce themed collections, tying together the various buttons, fabrics, shapes and accessories around diverse leitmotifs, from the 18th-century Italian commedia dell'arte to the signs of the zodiac.

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Schiaparelli flouted convention and brought a sense of fun into fashion, her idiosyncratic novelties mocking the notion of good taste. She collaborated with fabric houses to create novelty prints and materials. But her imagination manifested itself most in fastenings; she became famous for brightly coloured visible zips and outsized, whimsical buttons, which included clowns, rabbit's feet and astrological symbols.

Social Culture

This jacket is assumed to be a favourite design of Schiaparelli’s. She chose an almost identical one for her famous photographic portrait by Horst P Horst for Vogue magazine in 1937. It differed only in that Schiaparelli’s own version was slightly longer, with long pendant front pockets, and carried the applied gold braid all the way round the back.

Who wore it

Horst P Horst’s study of Elsa Schiaparelli, reflected in a mirror, wearing one of her ensembles.

© Condé Nast Archive/CORBIS

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Craft Skills

This simply-tailored evening jacket is the perfect foil for Schiaparelli’s extravagant embellishment. Inspired by a range of historical and traditional embroideries, Schiaparelli used deliberately provocative combinations of old and new techniques and materials. Here, applied metal vine leaves and fronds worked in gold metal strips are interspersed with pink oval glass droplets which form bunches of grapes, which function as buttons.

The embroidery is by Maison Lesage. Founded in 1924, Lesage took over the workshop of the established embroiderer Michonet, famous for undertaking special commissions for the court of Napoleon III and supplying the greatest names in Parisian couture, from Worth to Madeleine Vionnet. Lesage continued in its footsteps and in 2002 became part of Chanel’s Metiers d’art, the artisan partners who contribute to their collections.