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Evening dress
  • Evening dress
    Elsa Schiaparelli, born 1890 - died 1973
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Evening dress

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    Spring/summer 1953 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Elsa Schiaparelli, born 1890 - died 1973 (designer)
    Bianchini-Férier (manufacturer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silk, machine embroidered organza, cotton, velveteen appliqué, and underdress of Thai silk

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Duchess of Devonshire

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was born in Rome and initially studied philosophy. She spent her early married life in Boston and New York. In 1920 she moved to Paris. One of her first designs, a black sweater knitted with a white bow to give a trompe l'œil (trick of the eye) effect, was seen by a store buyer and subsequent orders put her into business. In 1928 she opened a shop called Pour le Sport. Her own salon followed a year later.

Schiaparelli was famed for her attractive and wittily designed evening ensembles. Her clothes were smart, sophisticated and often wildly eccentric, but she had a huge following. Her ideas, coupled with those she commissioned from famous artists, were carried out with considerable skill. Salvador Dalí, Christian Bérard and Jean Cocteau, for example, designed fabrics and accessories. Jean Schlumberger produced costume jewellery and buttons. Cubism and Surrealism influenced her designs. She used tweed to make evening wear and hessian for dresses. She dyed furs, put padlocks on suits and created a vogue for Tyrolean peasant costume. In this dress she was faithful to one of her favourite colours, shocking pink, which she has toned down with an overlay of semi-transparent white organza.

The dress was worn by the Duchess of Devonshire. It forms part of the Cecil Beaton Collection. This Collection was brought together by the society photographer Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980). With great energy and determination, Beaton contacted the well-dressed elite of Europe and North America to help create this lasting monument to the art of dress. The Collection was exhibited in 1971, accompanied by a catalogue that detailed its enormous range.

Physical description

Under dress of shocking pink Thai silk, with short sleeves and a pleated off-the-shoulder neckline. The waist is dropped at the sides and the skirt is cut on the cross and is long and flared.

The foundation is over-lain with white silk organza pattern of apple blossom machine embroidered in pink, green, yellow and white cotton with velveteen appliqué. The organza terminates at the low circular yoke below the neckline and forms a deep frill which encircles the front, shoulders and back and is caught to the underdress of Thai silk at intervals.

The dress has a long stiff white Holland petticoat. It has a white petersham waistband attached to two bones a the front.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)


Spring/summer 1953 (made)


Elsa Schiaparelli, born 1890 - died 1973 (designer)
Bianchini-Férier (manufacturer)

Materials and Techniques

Silk, machine embroidered organza, cotton, velveteen appliqué, and underdress of Thai silk

Marks and inscriptions

Label red on white reading 'Devonshire'
Small label, red on white


Circumference: 60 cm Waist, Circumference: 300 cm Hem

Object history note

Donor biography, from the Chatsworth House web-site:

The Most Noble Deborah Vivien Cavendish, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire DCVO (born March 31, 1920), née Deborah Freeman-Mitford, is the last of the noted Mitford sisters.
She married Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire in 1941. At the time he was not expected to inherit the dukedom but his older brother William was killed in combat in 1944. Andrew became duke, and Deborah became duchess, when the 10th Duke died in 1950.
The Duchess has been the main public face of Chatsworth House for many decades, and has remained so in her widowhood. She has written several books about Chatsworth, and has played a key role in the restoration of the house.
In 1999 she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (DCVO) by Queen Elizabeth II. She has three children, including the 12th Duke. She is a grandmother of the fashion model Stella Tennant.
Her Grace became the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire in 2004 when her son inherited the Dukedom upon the death of her husband of 63 years.

The Dowager Duchess was contacted during the course of research for The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957 exhibition (2007: V&A), but does not recall to where she wore the dress or the occassion. She stated that she remembered far clearer the dresses she wore from the 1960s, in particular her favourite, Oscar de la Renta.

Historical context note

Some of Schiaparelli’s designs during the early 1950’s were very feminine. This design was likely influenced by the ready to wear lingerie that she launched in 1951 and her designs for Zsa Zsa Gabor as Jane Avril in the film Moulin Rouge in 1952. Gabor's costumes were based upon Toulouse Lautrec's posters depicting Jane Avril.

The dress featured the 'shocking pink' colour made famous by Schiaparelli and which characterised her work for many.

Schiaparelli designs from this year are scarce as the house was facing bankruptcy, and eventually had to close in 1954.

Descriptive line

Evening dress of organza and silk, dress designed by Schiaparelli and textile manufactured by Bianchini-Férier, Paris, spring/summer 1953.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Rothstein, N. ed., Four Hundred Years of Fashion (V&A: 1992), p.94
Paris, Centre de Documentation du Costume, (now part of the Musee des Arts de la Mode) Schiaparelli Album no. 52, 1953, p. 217
L'Officiel, June 1953
Vickers, H., 'Cecil Beaton' in Wilcox, C., ed., The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-57, (V&A Publications, 2007), p.166
Vogue (British), December 2006, p.254-5
no. 227
Fashion : An Anthology by Cecil Beaton. London : H.M.S.O., 1971

Labels and date

[Case panel[
Evening and Ballgowns

The fashion show culminated with evening dresses (robes du soir), dance dresses (robes à danser), long evening dresses (robes du soir longues), grand evening dresses (robes grand soir) and spectacular gala dresses (robe de gala). Traditionally, the end of the collection was marked by the wedding gown, the robe de mariée.

Sumptuously embroidered and accessorised with jewels, these gowns provided a glittering show at receptions and balls, the opera or the theatre. Some were specially commissioned for a specific occasion, and worn only once. Many couturiers were also willing to lend expensive gowns for important diplomatic and state occasions.

The creation of couture was a matter of national pride, particularly in France. Christian Dior said, ‘My mannequins sail forth like a brilliant armada, all sails flying, going forth to conquer the world in the cause of the new fashion.’

[object label]
Evening dress (robe du soir)
Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973)

Schiaparelli closed her house in 1954. This ballgown, made for the Duchess of Devonshire, is from one of her last collections. The flower-strewn organza skirt illustrates a romantic aspect of Schiaparelli's later work, but the underskirt is in her trademark shocking pink.

Silk organza with appliqué velvet and embroidery over silk

Given by the (now Dowager) Duchess of Devonshire
V&A: T.397-1974 [22/09/2007-06/01/2008]


Organza; Silk; Silk thread; Velveteen


Embroidery; Sewing; Weaving


Fashion; Evening wear; Embroidery

Production Type

Haute couture


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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