The Tears Dress thumbnail 1
The Tears Dress thumbnail 2
+8
images
Not currently on display at the V&A

The Tears Dress

Evening Ensemble (Dress and Veil)
February 1938 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Savage rips and tears cover Elsa Schiaparelli's slender evening gown and head-veil. A closer look reveals the illusion. The dress is printed, and the rips in the veil have been carefully cut out and lined in pink and magenta. The trompe l'oeil (illusionistic) 'Tears' print was specially designed by Schiaparelli's friend, the artist Salvador Dali. Some of his Surrealist paintings showed figures in ripped skin-tight clothing, disturbingly suggestive of flayed flesh. Schiaparelli owned one of these pictures, which perhaps gave her the idea for this dress. Dali also helped her design the Skeleton Dress (see T.394-1974).

This dress was part of Schiaparelli's famous 'Circus Collection' of 1938. It was a riotous, swaggering fashion show that attracted a great deal of publicity. Clothes were decorated with acrobats and performing animals. The models wore clown hats and carried balloon-shaped handbags. The Tears and Skeleton dresses must have been doubly shocking amongst all this madcap gaiety. Dali's patron, Edward James, gave these dresses to Ruth Ford, the sister of the Surrealist poet Charles Henri Ford.
watch Introducing Elsa Schiaparelli Fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli (1890 – 1973) was one of the most remarkable couturiers of the 20th century, known for her subversive, sometimes overtly surreal designs. In this film, Sonnet Stanfill, Senior Curator of Fashion & Textiles, takes a closer look at some of Schiaparelli's mo...
object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 5 parts.

  • Evening Dress
  • Mantle
  • Petticoat
  • Glove
  • Glove
Additional TitleThe Circus Collection (named collection)
Materials and Techniques
Viscose-rayon and silk blend fabric printed with trompe l'oeil print
Brief Description
Evening dress and head veil, "Tears", Schiaparelli, Elsa, February 1938 for Circus Collection, summer 1938. Fabric designed by Salvador Dali
Physical Description
Long sheath dress in pale blue viscose rayon and silk blend marocain, printed with pink and magenta rips and tears. Two-pointed train. Side zipper in chunky white plastic



Mantle worn over head in matching fabric.Pleated and gathered on top of head. "Tears" cut out of fabric, lined in pale pink with magenta lining revealed by hanging "tears"
Style
Production typeHaute couture
Credit line
Given by Miss Ruth Ford
Object history
Ref. Paris Centre de Documentation de Costume, Schiaparelli, Album no 19, 1938, p.124



Historical significance: Extremely important Schiaparelli design, representing her collaboration with Salvador Dali. Particularly significant in how it relates to world affairs. The savagely ripped print suggests the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and the upcoming turmoil of the Second World War.





Donated by Ruth Ford



Photo notes:

Zipper: white plastic zipper at side

Scarf flap open: shows the flaps. Exquisite workmanship

Scarf flap closed: Flaps are cut from the white crepe (continuous piece of fabric) and faced with pink.

Pointed hem back: shows the workmanship

Gloves: these are part of the ensemble but there are two other pairs of gloves that also go with this ensemble. The other two pairs are sheerer.



Jan G. Reeder, Curator, The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Taken May, 2011, Compiled September, 2011

Historical context
In 1936 Salvador Dali painted three pictures showing figures with flayed/torn skin where torn garment and torn flesh were indistinguishable. One of these, Necrophiliac Springtime was owned by Elsa Schiaparelli. The one most commonly associated with the "Tears Dress" is Three Young Surrealist Women Holding In Their Arms The Skins Of An Orchestra (both paintings can be seen in Blum, p.139)



The Circus Collection for summer 1938 was presented at the beginning of February of that year, just after the Paris Surrealism exhibition opened on 17th January. Along with this dress, Dali collaborated with Schiaparelli on the Skeleton Dress in the same collection. (T.394-1974).



Richard Martin says that to "tear the dress is to deny its customary decorum and utility, and to question the matter of concealment and revelation in the garment." He compares it to the Spanish Civil War, and the spread of Fascism through Europe. He suggests that the imagery of rent fabric held strong implications for both the politicial and visual worlds. To Martin, the dress is a memento mori - a reminder of one's own mortality - that was in a state of destruction even when it was new. (p.136-137) The real tears on the cape/veil and the fictive tears on the dress create a visual friction between what is real and what is not. Martin proposes that if the dress were to become mere decoration (like slashing in the 16th century), the cape would still negate this, and vice versa. The two styles support each other's plausibility. The mysticism of penetration without tearing asunder becomes more viable when accompanied by a physical manifestation of the dress without rupture. Dress is therefore used to represent and reference, just as furniture, architecture, and sculpture themselves do. (p.114)



- Daniel Milford-Cottam



Bibilography




Blum, Dilys E. Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003

Martin, R. Fashion and Surrealism, London, 1988.
Production
From Schiaparelli's Circus Collection, February 1938



Reason For Production: Commission
Subjects depicted
Summary
Savage rips and tears cover Elsa Schiaparelli's slender evening gown and head-veil. A closer look reveals the illusion. The dress is printed, and the rips in the veil have been carefully cut out and lined in pink and magenta. The trompe l'oeil (illusionistic) 'Tears' print was specially designed by Schiaparelli's friend, the artist Salvador Dali. Some of his Surrealist paintings showed figures in ripped skin-tight clothing, disturbingly suggestive of flayed flesh. Schiaparelli owned one of these pictures, which perhaps gave her the idea for this dress. Dali also helped her design the Skeleton Dress (see T.394-1974).



This dress was part of Schiaparelli's famous 'Circus Collection' of 1938. It was a riotous, swaggering fashion show that attracted a great deal of publicity. Clothes were decorated with acrobats and performing animals. The models wore clown hats and carried balloon-shaped handbags. The Tears and Skeleton dresses must have been doubly shocking amongst all this madcap gaiety. Dali's patron, Edward James, gave these dresses to Ruth Ford, the sister of the Surrealist poet Charles Henri Ford.
Bibliographic References
  • Palmer White, Elsa Schiaparelli: Empress of Paris Fashion. p.134-135, p.166. London, 1986
  • Blum, Dilys E. Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli. (Philadelphia, 2003) p.138-139
  • Martin, R. Fashion and Surrealism, London, 1988. p.114, 136-137.
  • Fashion : An Anthology by Cecil Beaton. London : H.M.S.O., 1971224
Collection
Accession Number
T.393&A,D to F-1974

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

record createdSeptember 24, 2003
Record URL