Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) and Coco Chanel may have been rivals in the field of 20th-century couture, but one of the ways the former distinguished herself was by incorporating surrealist elements into her work. This is hammered home in the illuminating and grand Shocking: The Surreal World of Elsa Schiaparelli, whose contributors take the position that the Italian designer should assume a place among the surrealist artists of her time.
The book--a companion to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, exhibition Shocking! The Surreal Worlds of Elsa Schiaparelli--comprises five essays and around 30 descriptive sidebars introducing pieces from the exhibition. Readers learn that Schiaparelli employed trompe l'oeil elements even before she collaborated with some of the leading surrealist luminaries, including Salvador Dalí, with whom she created her famous shoe hat and her infamous lobster dress. And if that wasn't proof enough of Schiaparelli's surrealist bona fides, Man Ray was on the scene to photograph her work.
Ray's black-and-white shots are among the book's stunning visuals, which include design drawings and color photographs of Schiaparelli's creations. Not even the most dedicated fashionista will leave Shocking without a deeper sense of Schiaparelli's effort to make clothes that encouraged people to think. As contributor Marie-Pierre Ribère puts it, "her creations were intended to not just be simple couture garments but rather intellectual works that occupied a special place in surrealist iconography." Now with Shocking, they can occupy a special place in a library--in either the art or the fashion section. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer