Collector’s Corner: Vintage Schiaparelli Ads

Elsa Schiaparelli was an Italian fashion designer of the mid-Twentieth century. She opened her first fashion house in Paris in 1927. Schiaparelli was known for her offbeat, avant-garde fashions. She collaborated with Surrealist artists like Salvador Dali (most famously on a hat shaped like a high-heeled shoe), Jean Cocteau, and Alberto Giacometti. She also opened what could be considered the world’s first boutique, where women could buy her designer clothing off-the-rack instead of being custom-fitted at a couture salon. I do feel the need to mention the fact that Schiaparelli has a connection to Boston, too. As a young wife and mother, in the years before she became a fashion designer, she briefly lived on Charles Street. In her autobiography, she complained about women not being able to walk in heels on the Boston sidewalks because of the cobblestones. Not much has changed in that respect. I once broke a heel on my most expensive pair of shoes (Anne Klein New York, $225 at Nordstrom’s) after I just came out of a job interview. And, no, I didn’t get the job. But I digress.

Like other fashion designers of her time, most notably Coco Chanel, Schiaparelli branched out into the world of fragrances. She introduced her first and most famous fragrance, called Shocking, in 1936. The bottle was in the shape of a female figure, modeled after Mae West — a client of Schiaparelli’s — and it was designed by Salvador Dali. The name came from Schiaparelli’s signature color, shocking pink. The Shocking line grew to include makeup such as lipstick and powder. Schiaparelli subsequently launched other fragrances, including Zut, Salut, Success Fou, Snuff (for men), and Sleeping.

In the Thirties and Forties, Schiaparelli teamed with a Hungarian artist named Marcel Vertes on a series of advertisements for her perfumes and cosmetics. Like Schiaparelli, Vertes was also an expatriate who made Paris his new home. The collaboration between Elsa Schiaparelli and Marcel Vertes was an inspired one. Vertes’s whimsical, modern illustrations perfectly complemented Schiaparelli’s avant-garde style and irreverant attitude. To me, these ads totally reflect the era in which they were produced. Later Schiaparelli perfume ads from the Fifties used illustrators other than Vertes, but they just don’t capture the spirit and vitality of the designer and her fragrances in the same way that Vertes’s ads did.

I started collecting Schiaparelli/Vertes ads two years ago because I wanted to get a few to mat and frame. I found all of mine on eBay. They seem to be plentiful, and relatively inexpensive. Generally I’ve paid between $9 to $15 for them, except for one where I paid more because I got into a bidding war with another bidder. These Schiaparelli ads are a less expensive alternative to prints or lithographs for distinctive artwork for the home. One thing to look out for if you’re planning to frame them is to make sure that the sizes of the ads are roughly the same. These ads were full-page ads taken from various magazines of the time. Because magazines come in all different sizes, the size of the ad depends on which magazine it was taken from. My favorite ad, for Sleeping (below), is smaller in size than my next two favorites, so I can’t put them in uniform frames to hang together as a triptych.

The ads for Schiaparelli’s perfumes are easier to acquire than the perfumes themselves. All were discontinued decades ago. Shocking and Zut were relaunched in the 1990s, only to be discontinued again. Newer bottles of Zut are sometimes available on Shocking is available at, but it is often sold out and on “waiting list only.” Of course, you can still find original bottles of Shocking on eBay, but they command high prices. I have been outbid on every single bottle that I’ve bid on. I may have lost the auctions, but the irony isn’t lost on me that, while I have many ads for Shocking, the perfume itself continues to elude me.

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