Chanel vs Schiaparelli

An iconic and legendary feud.

Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli are two legendary designers that are both known for their unconventional but groundbreaking designs in the 1930s. Everyone knows that. What isn’t well know is that both women had a long feud with each other that ended in actual flames.

For some background information, Coco Chanel is a French fashion designer who is credited in the post-world war 1 era with liberating women from uncomfortable and tight clothes of previous eras and popularizing a sporty, casual chic style as a standard for woman’s style. Most of you might know her primarily for her work in her line Chanel.

Coco Chanel

Elsa Schiaparelli, on the other hand, was an Italian fashion designer who is remembered for her innovating designs that were heavily inspired by surrealists. Her clients included the heiress Daisy Fellowes and actress Mae West. Her couture house closed in 1954.

Elsa Schiaparelli

As I said prior, both women were making huge waves in the fashion community in the 1930s. There isn’t just one starting point for their feud. It’s not like Coco woke up one day and said “I hate that Schiaparelli bitch.” It was more of a wave of things that pushed these two renowned designers against each other.

To start, in the 1930s both designers had already a respectable career in the fashion community. Coco already was making waves and was experiencing major success with her designs. Elsa was still new to the scene but she was already growing fast. Around this time, the Parisian art scene was becoming more into surrealism where everything was distorted and dreamy. During this time, Coco’s designs looked boring in comparison to everyone else’s designs. However, Elsa’s designs, that were more outrageous and eccentric then Coco’s, helped her fit right in.

Some examples of Elsa Schiaparelli’s designs.

This helped boost Elsa’s popularity in the fashion community by a lot. So much so that Elsa then teamed up Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau to create designs for her clothing line. This felt like a betrayal to Coco because she was friends with Dali and Cocteau and thought they were leaving her for the more popular designer, Elsa.

Then in 1931, Sam Goldwyn, a Polish-American film producer, called Coco Chanel because he thought Hollywood stars were too vulgar and he wanted Coco to dress them and give them more “class.” Coco was very happy to perform this job but most Hollywood stars didn’t want to wear her dresses. They thought her dresses were dull and tiresome. However, the same stars who didn’t want to wear Coco’s designs adored Schiaparelli’s designs. Famous actresses like Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, and Mae West became loyal Schiaparelli clients. At this point in time, Coco was really done with being second in demand to Elsa and was very cold towards Elsa and anyone who associated with Elsa.

From Left to Right: Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, and Mae West all wearing Schiaparelli’s designs.

To make things worse for Coco, on August 13th, 1934 Elsa became the first fashion designer to be on the cover of Time Magazine. Time Magazine wrote a whole article calling Elsa a ‘genius’, ‘daring’, and one of the most original designers of their time. As Elsa’s career kept growing and thriving, it seemed as Coco’s once bright spotlight was becoming dimmer.

Elsa Schiaparelli on the cover of Time Magazine in 1934.

To rub more salt to the wound, in 1936 Wallis Simpson, a loyal Coco client, appeared in a major photoshoot to publicly announce her marriage to the King of England Edward VIII wearing a Schiaparelli/ Dali creation, the ‘Lobster Dress.’

Around the same time, Coco started to refer to Elsa only as “that Italian”, but Elsa returned the favor by calling Coco “The hat maker” in reference to how Coco got her start in her career.

One time they were at the same costume ball. Coco approached Elsa and asked if Elsa would like to dance in what seemed to be a friendly gesture. Would this be the end of their feud? No, because Coco slightly pushed Elsa towards lighted candelabra and tried to set Elsa’s highly flammable dress on fire. Luckily, Elsa caught the fire and put it out with soda water. Coco claimed it was an “accident” but I think most would agree that is very hard to believe considering how tense their relationship was.

However, their feud did end soon after this because both of them had to close their businesses during World War II. After the war ended, Elsa wasn’t able to make a successful comeback and she, unfortunately, faded out of the spotlight. House of Schiaparelli closed in 1954 but was revived in 2013. Elsa Schiaparelli died in 1973. Unlike Elsa, Coco released a new collection after the war and continued to have plenty of success with Chanel up until her death in 1971.

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Writer. Obviously.

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