Fashion One Oh One - Elsa Schiaparelli

fashion 

"a designer without a sense of history is worth nothing"

- Massimo Vignelli

I'd revise that to ANY artist or creative. We need to know the history of our work.

There really isn't anything new. And even if it's a new take on something, it fits into a history. We don't create in isolation.

You make jewellry? You're using techniques and an aesthetic that has it's roots in hundreds if not thousands of years of history. You take portraits? What about the 180 years of photographic history? Love typography? How is your poster the same or different from what has come before?

We are part of the thread of a long story of our field. 

And that's one of the motivations behind this lovely series by Jacqueline on fashion game changers. How what I wear now fits into the story of fashion. 

Today we're ALL about shoulders, big and small. Well, mostly big.

evening jacket by Elsa Schiaparelli, winter 1938-39. source Metropolitan Museum of Art

evening jacket by Elsa Schiaparelli, winter 1938-39. source Metropolitan Museum of Art

A prominent shoulder isn't regarded as highly these days, but throughout the 20th century it has seen its fair share of praise. Enhanced by the shoulder pad, wide shoulders signify strength and power. Of course, broad shoulders in menswear have a long history, but they are less than 100 years old for women.

Elsa Schiaparelli is generally regarded as the first women's fashion designer to experiment with shoulder pads in the early 1930s. Schiaparelli was no shy wallflower — her designs were as big as her personality. She was a nonconformist through and through. Whimsy, surrealism, and nontraditional materials were her trademarks. Her early shoulder pads were made out of cotton.

coat with seal fur collar by Elsa Schiaparelli, winter 1931-32. source Philadelphia Museum of Art

coat with seal fur collar by Elsa Schiaparelli, winter 1931-32. source Philadelphia Museum of Art

In 1931, Schiaparelli showed her fall/winter collection in August, and the press and American buyers fell over themselves for her use of shoulder pads. In British Vogue's September 16, 1931 issue they called it a "wooden soldier silhouette", and said, "it transforms you completely: wide, padded epaulette shoulders, high double-breasted closing, very chesty chest, lines carved sharply under the arms to the waist, and a straight column from there down". The brown wool coat with a seal fur collar above and the plum velvet jacket as seen inVogue's November 1, 1931 issue below are both from that groundbreaking collection and feature shoulder pads. 

Vogue, November 1, 1931, page 40. source The Vogue Archive

Vogue, November 1, 1931, page 40. source The Vogue Archive

In the same year, designer Marcel Rochas also introduced a padded shoulder to his line, solidifying the look in fashion history. The shoulder pad gave women a totally new silhouette to play with.

evening coat, winter 1938-39, and dinner jacket, spring 1939, both by Elsa Schiaparelli. source Philadelphia Museum of Art

evening coat, winter 1938-39, and dinner jacket, spring 1939, both by Elsa Schiaparelli. source Philadelphia Museum of Art

Schiaparelli really perfected the shoulder pad throughout the 1930s. By contrast to the broad shoulders, women’s waists looked quite narrow and feminine. Hollywood loved the look. Costume designer Gilbert Adrian (known simple as Adrian) put Joan Crawford in a dress with large ruffled shoulders for her 1932 role in Letty Lynton.

When the United States entered World War II, the shoulder pad got a huge boost. Women entered the workplace in large numbers, and the padded shoulder showed confidence, authority, and took on patriotic symbolism. Hollywood showed no shortage of broad shouldered actresses. The shoulder pad defined the popular silhouette of the 1940s. 

It wasn’t until the war ended and Christian Dior showed his New Look in 1947 that the shoulder pad was dethroned. Dior’s sloping shoulders defined traditional femininity.

But the shoulder pad wasn’t to remain a one-hit wonder. In the 1980s, women once again entered the workforce in large numbers, and the shoulder pad made its comeback. Designers like Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana designed powersuits that gave women a boost of confidence in a male-dominated workplace. And again in 2009, the shoulder fought its way back onto the runway in Balmain’s collection. Other designers followed suit and the shoulder pad had its moment yet again.

dress and jacket by Elsa Schiaparelli, spring 1938. source Phoenix Art Museum

dress and jacket by Elsa Schiaparelli, spring 1938. source Phoenix Art Museum

The shoulder pad has evolved from humble padded cotton to molded rubber. From its origins in Schiaparelli's 1931 collection to now, it has a way of returning to the limelight. The shoulder pad borrows from the masculine silhouette, which allows women some gender-blurring fun. Even though it's not the prominent style this year, wait a little while and see. The shoulder pad will make its return.

Fashion is such a crazy thing, eh? It's a uniform that we pull on to get ourselves into the zone of a certain activity. It signifies outwardly our personality, our values, our interests. We really ARE still those 3 year olds dressed up in a princess outfit or a superman cape, just our own grown up version.