Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973)
Wool crepe and gold braid
Museum no. T.36-1964
Given by Mrs P. Otway-Smithers
Couturier clothing like this was custom-made for each individual client from the finest materials, and was out of most women's reach. However, couture influenced the silhouette and style of more affordable fashions and emulated aspects of it. The prevalent 1930s style, pioneered by couturiere Madeleine Vionnet, was the bias cut. Bias cutting (where fabric is cut diagonally to the grain of the fabric) created garments that skimmed over the body's curves. The 1930s silhouette is therefore slinky and close-fitting, with fluted skirts and features like scoop backs. The line was simple and uncluttered and few trimmings or accessories were worn.
This 1936 evening dress is by Elsa Schiaparelli, who was known for her shock tactics and love of surrealism. Here, Schiaparelli has taken the intimate padding over the breasts which would normally be concealed, and used it to decorate the outside of a severe brown crepe dress. Crepe was very fashionable for both day and evening dresses during this decade.