Elsa Schiaparelli: Lobster Dress


Today I present one of the most imaginative dresses I have seen, Elsa Schiaparelli’s “Lobster Dress”.

Whereas Coco Chanel was a craftswoman who considered dressmaking a profession, Schiaparelli, on the other hand, regarded her work as art and herself as an artist.  (Lisa’s History Room)

Designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, French (born Italy), 1890 – 1973. Designed in collaboration with Salvador Dalí, Spanish, 1904 – 1989

The wonderful dress  was designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, an Italian innovative designer, who was inspired by Salvador Dali’s lobster telephone. The two of them collaborated on many designs, and are considered major proponents and members of the data and surrealist movements.

The Lobster dress (printed silk organza,synthetic horsehair) is a simple white silk evening dress with a crimson waistband featuring a large lobster painted (by Dali) onto the skirt. Dali’s lobster design for Schiaparelli was then interpreted into a fabric print by the leading silk designer Sache(Lisa’s History Room)

Salvador Dalí by George Platt Lynes for the Dream of Venus, 1939

“If Salvador can put a lobster on a telephone, why can’t I place one on a dress?” Schiaparelli may have wondered.

There are spigs of parsley around the lobster, but Schiaparelli did not let Dali spread real mayonnaise on the dress, as he wanted to do. Collaboration is good, but there are red lines not to be crossed. Good for her! In defence of Dali’s idea, he may have thought that the fress is to be worn only once, if it were truly unique and special. Therefore he was not suggesting to wear the dress and dress it with mayonnaise, he was suggesting instead to consume the dress with mayonnaise! In modern day terms, adjusted to lower income levels, you consume the hamburger after you dress it with ketchup.

Walis Wilson, photographed by Cecil Beaton
Walis Wilson, photographed by Cecil Beaton

The dress was worn by Wallis Simpson for a series of photographs that were taken by Cecil Beaton shortly before her she married Edward VIII. It s is amazing how well the lobster sits in the midst of a garden. By the way, I have never seen a lobster walking on grass. Somethimes, I have seen lobsters walking on kitchen floors, but this is as far as I have gone.

Lobster Dress – detail

The dress is today at the Philadeplhia Museum of Art in the USA. I quote from the online catalog:

“The oversized lobster on this dress is strangely out of place on such a romantic and feminine gown, but the odd juxtaposition between evening gown and sea creature was certainly not an accident. Many of Schiaparelli’s designs were both shocking and humorous. The lobster motif was a result of a collaboration with Salvador Dalí, who had been employing lobsters in his artwork for years, as in his famous Lobster Telephone from 1936. In spring 1937, Schiaparelli asked Dalí to design a lobster as a decoration for a white organdy evening gown.”

Schiaparelli Pink
Schiaparelli Pink

Schiaparelli is the creator of a color, the “Schiaprelli pink”.

As Yves Saint Laurent, her protege and colleague famously described it  “the nerve of red…an aggressive, brawling, warrior pink.” and how she “didn’t want to please; she wanted to dominate”. “She slapped Paris. She smacked it. She tortured it. She bewitched it. And it fell madly love with her.” (Sparkle & Style)

Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s
Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s

I just love this dress. And I feel that I have been discriminated against, because there is not a similar design for men’s cloths. It does not need to be a lobster suit. I could do with a nice coat. Of course I would not wear it in the meeting of Apple’s Board of Directors, but then again, I am not a member of this Board.The fact of the matter is that men’s cloths continue to this day to be basically boring, and locked into the stereotypical images of masculinity that deny color and imaginative designs. But there is an escape route. It is called a tie and a scarf. So, I would love to have a lobster scarf and a Sciaparelli pink tie. This would be a good enough solution.