Elsa Schiaparelli: A Biography

Meryle Secrest. Knopf, $35 (400p) ISBN 978-0-307-70159-6
“This book had its start when I began to wonder why nobody dressed up any more, even for evenings out,” writes Secrest. Although she never answers her question, this consummate biographer (Leonard Bernstein: A Life) does take readers on a breathless, madcap ride across the early 20th century. The book follows Schiaparelli from her meteoric rise to couture queen of 1930s Paris to her fizzling postwar descent into bankruptcy. It begins with the image of the child Schiaparelli running through the Italian palazzo where she grew up, and ends, no less evocatively, by musing on what passed through the designer’s mind as she sat on the terrace of her Tunisian getaway in her later years. In between, Secrest draws on the interviews and writings of Schiaparelli’s friends, family, and colleagues; biographers and historians of the period; public records from ship manifests and visas to FBI documents; Schiaparelli’s 1954 memoir, Shocking Life; and Secrest’s own speculative imagination. The result paints an alternately exhilarating, sympathetic, slyly humorous, and poignant portrait, not only of the surrealism-influenced, innovative fashion designer who invented wraparound dresses, built-in bras, falsies, and shocking pink, but also of the creative cauldron of Paris in its golden age between the two world wars. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/25/2014
Release date: 10/07/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 288 pages - 978-0-241-14634-7
Open Ebook - 306 pages - 978-0-385-35327-4
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