Designer: Elsa Schiaparelli (Italian, 1890–1973)
Date: summer 1937
Credit Line: Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Edward G. Sparrow, 1969
Accession Number: 2009.300.1347a, b
The butterfly was the Surrealist symbol for change, particularly the change from ugly to beautiful. As the unlovely caterpillar morphs into the brilliant colorful butterfly, so Schiaparelli's designs could transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. Many of her clients were women who did not possess the accepted standard of beauty, but rather a more striking sort of chic, such as the Duchess of Windsor and Millicent Rogers, and Schiaparelli's artistic designs were perfectly suited to assist in developing their particular versions of style and beauty. This evening dress design from the summer 1937 collection features a lively butterfly print, most likely made exclusively for Schiaparelli that expresses the wide array of types and colorations of butterflies and was inspired by Surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst and Man Ray. Schiaparelli shared many Surrealist views with these artists and often used her designs as a means to express these views. Besides the act of using the Surrealist symbol for change as the subject of the print, using an insect as decoration for evening wear, an unexpected choice in itself, is also surrealist-inspired. The neckline treatment is an example of Schiaparelli's playful yet sculptural design sense and assists in giving the dress its compelling visual appeal. Schiaparelli featured the butterfly print on other pieces in her summer collection as well, including parasols (see 2009.300.1224), silk evening dresses (such as this) and her new waltz-length evening dresses.