SFHS 2016

Poster for the 62nd Annual Conference of the Society for French Historical Studies, 2016. © SFHS.

'Defending French Haute Couture:' Elsa Schiaparelli's Lecture Tour in North America in 1940

​French designers had toured abroad, especially in North and South America, since the early days of haute couture in order to conquer and retain foreign markets. However, when in 1940 world-renowned couturiere Elsa Schiaparelli decided to give a series of lectures scheduled before the outbreak of WWII, not only was she fighting for her own economic interests, but also for the supremacy of Parisian haute couture. This talk analyses how Schiaparelli accomplished what she perceived to be her patriotic duty, and turned into a non-official ambassador of French fashion. It thus questions the role individuals play in the game of nations. “Clothes and Woman” was the title of the speech she gave in about thirty cities throughout the United States. Along the tour, she repeatedly claimed that New York would never supplant Paris as the leading fashion capital in the Western world due to its lack of creativity and obsession with profit. These claims provoked a polemic in the American press. This empirical case study builds on a range of press cuttings, administrative and police archives, and Schiaparelli’s published autobiography. In this talk, I argue that Schiaparelli contributed to position the two fashion nations as opponents complementing each other. By engaging with the symbolic value of Paris and New York, the case revitalizes the debate over global fashion capitals. 

Talk given at the annual conference of the Society for French Historical Studies.

March 3-5, 2016.