photos from Victoria and Albert Museum
Colours fascinated Elsa Schiaparelli. Her autobiography, Shocking Life, is paved by her colour discoveries, from the blue and red uniforms she designed during the First World War to the oranges and turquoises of Kremlin treasures.
In the first third of her book, however, the colour pink only comes up only to describe her new-born daughter, Gogo. Schiaparelli’s early career was, much like her contemporary Coco Chanel’s, defined by black and white. The first garment she created, in 1927, was a jumper with “a white bow against a white background.” Her first evening dress was, again, monochromatic.
The shocking-pink came thanks to Schiaparelli’s first foray into fragrances. In 1937, while struggling to name her upcoming perfume, she remembered a pink Tête de Bélier Cartier diamond owned by her friend, client and Paris editor for Harper’s Bazaar, Daisy Fellowes. In her autobiography, Schiap (as she nicknamed herself) describes the jewel colour as “bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life-giving, like all the light and the birds and the fish in the world but together, a color of China and Peru but not of the West – a shocking colour, pure and undiluted.” She asked Surrealist designer Leonor Fini to create a perfume bottle imitating Mae West curves in that very shade. The perfume was named “Shocking”.