Telephone, shoe, lobster: unremarkable objects that Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli and Spanish artist Salvador Dalí elevated to art and high fashion during their many years of fruitful collaboration. Though Schiaparelli was renowned for her partnership with several celebrated artists of the mid-twentieth century (Man Ray, Christian Bérard, Jean Cocteau, and Meret Oppenheim to name a few), she and Dalí shared an unparalleled synergy that resulted in some of the most important creations of the Surrealist movement.
Dalí and Schiaparelli, circa 1949. Photo: Courtesy of Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí
Though their first encounter is not recorded, they likely met through mutual acquaintances in Paris’s flourishing art scene in the early 1930s. The years between the wars in Europe were an especially productive period for artists – reeling from horrific violence and increasingly aware of mounting political tensions – resulting in daring works that sought to shock audiences. Surrealism evolved from the Dadaist movement and explored the “isolating, modifying, and comprehending of ordinary objects and their meanings.” Surrealists, who were particularly drawn to the human body, found in fashion a blank canvas for experimentation. Artists explored the “free play of the unconscious and the juxtaposition of unlikely elements” though fashion design, fashion advertising, and window displays, where mundane mannequins were transformed into fascinating sculptures. However, it should be noted that not all Surrealists approved of this commercial association; some felt it violated the movement’s original principles.