By Alexandria Sage
PARIS (Reuters) - Elsa Schiaparelli, doyenne of 1930s Paris fashion, may be long gone - buried in her favorite hue of shocking pink - but nearly 200 pieces from her closet, along with her fine art and furniture, may enjoy a second life after an auction next week.
In the heady, pre-war Paris of the 1930s, Italian-born Schiaparelli exerted her sense of subversive, outlandish whimsy on couture from her design studio on the Place Vendome, creating conversation pieces that flouted convention.
Devotees of the trailblazer who dared women to be bold can choose between a silk violet blouse from the "Astrology" collection, a series of Man Ray photographs of the designer, a multi-colored feather boa or a delicately painted bird cage - up for the highest bidder at the January 23 auction in Paris.
"She had this incredible side of her that loved to have fun, that was very original, that dared to do anything, that was provocative but always chic," said Schiaparelli's granddaughter, Marisa Berenson, on Friday.
Described by Time magazine in 1934 as "madder and more original than most of her contemporaries," Schiaparelli hobnobbed with the avant-garde artists of the day like Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau, both of whom became collaborators. Her greatest rival was Coco Chanel.
She was the first to fuse fine art with fashion and her creations adorned the likes of the Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford.
Whether designing a white organza evening gown printed with the image of a lobster, a hat that resembled a high-heeled shoe, adding lips to pockets or bugs to necklaces, Schiaparelli's daring and provocative sense of humor make Lady Gaga's zaniness today look almost ho-hum.
"She went to one famous ball dressed as a radish with lots of birds eating off her and you have to have a great imagination to go, and also to dare to go, dressed as a radish. You have to have a sense of humor," Berenson said.
"It was Schiaparelli who pointed the way for all subsequent designers who have made bold, subversive statements through dress," says the Christie's auction catalogue.
Echoes of Schiaparelli can be seen in the work of designers Jean-Paul Gaultier, Marc Jacobs, Alber Elbaz and Miuccia Prada.
FLAIR FOR FLAMBOYANCE
Matador jackets in pink and blue, 18th century tapestries, tunics from China, Japanese kimonos and Ottoman kaftans, elegant turbans and exotic tabletop items made from horns are all on offer in the auction expected to raise about 800,000 euros.
So too is a series of Jules Cheret posters from the Belle Epoque, fashion sketches from French illustrator Christian Berard and a plaster figure of Mae West, whose curvaceous form inspired the bottle for Schiaparelli's "Shocking" perfume.
The designer who was photographed by Man Ray and Irving Penn and drawn by Picasso had a fondness for furniture. A Napoleon III giltwood two-sided settee upholstered in delicate lavender silk is expected to fetch up to 800 euros.
Christie's says the star lot is a bronze standing lamp designed by Alberto Giacometti estimated at 60,000-80,000 euros.
"She's right up in the top echelon of couture history and couture purchases," international specialist in fashion and textiles from Christie's, Patricia Frost, said.
Schiaparelli closed her studio in 1954 after liquidation. The brand was bought by Diego Della Valle, head of Italian leather goods company Tod's, in advance of a high-profile relaunch in 2012.
Creative Director Marco Zanini, formerly of Halston and Rochas, is set to show his first haute couture collection for the brand in Paris on January 20.
In her 1954 autobiography, Schiaparelli wrote: "Ninety percent (of women) are afraid of being conspicuous, and of what people will say. So they buy a gray suit. They should dare to be different."
Schiaparelli was laid to rest in 1973 in Paris. She wore an antique Chinese robe in her favorite color.
(Additional Reporting By Johnny Cotton; Editing by Janet Lawrence)