Among lots of other tasty exhibits in the V&A; Surrealism exhibition there is the iconic lobster dress of 1937, designed by Elsa Schiaparelli. The combination of the vivid and painterly red lobster with the white silk organza of the dress is as indelicate and startling as ever. It a combination far from appropriate in an evening dress today, never mind 70 years ago. Pictured on Wallis Simpson in the pages of Vogue early that year, the dress became as notorious as the model.
And, just as it would today, the dress was scaled down and produced in a ‘high street’ version, exploiting its notoriety and marketability. The picture here, from Vogue July 1937, shows the ready-to-wear version: a crisp white linen beach dress with a big hat ‘that is no more than a lobster-basket.’
How well it reads as a summer dress in this illustration. How cleverly Schiaparelli has taken the motif, repeated it across the fabric and lessened the offence of the lobster.
Attention to detail is what Schiaparelli brought to all her ready-to-wear collections from her couture collections – a patch of embroidery, unusual buttons, complicated seams or zips – small asides, always witty.
Schiaparelli was one of the first women designers to licence out her name, allowing it to be associated with mass produced items; from hats to stockings, perfumes to tartans. These all carried her logo, a sweeping black signature and often came packaged in the shocking pink colour she had claimed for her own. Selling on a little of the magic to the masses.