Lessons from Schiaparelli and Chanel: Creating Your Fashion Business

Little did we know about Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973), the designer who rivaled Coco Chanel (1883-1971), and whom the later despised so much that it is said that she set Schiaparelli’s dress on fire at a party. Each picked a name for one another, Schiaparelli called Chanel The Hat Seller while Chanel called Schiaparelli The Italian (aiming at degrading her).

Schiaparelli and Chanel came from two different backgrounds, they both put tremendous efforts to get their fashion designs noticed. Offering us lessons to learn from. We have Elsa Schiaparelli who came from an aristocratic Italian family, and Coco Chanel, who grew up in an orphanage in France. These different backgrounds affected in a great way each of the designer’s style and how they wanted to dress women. We have Coco Chanel who wanted to liberate women from the Belle Époque corsets, while Schiaparelli had an excellent taste in adding glamour to women’s fashion.

Surviving Despite a World Economic Crash  

The two fashion designers caught the interest of Hollywood after the economic crash in the thirties, a one million dollar contract was offered to Chanel, however, Chanel could not succeed in Hollywood, I think, showing how loyal she was to her style, focusing on offering woman comfort without any compromise, something Hollywood did not want at that time, with the economic crash they wanted to reflect an image of abundance something that would contrast with people’s circumstances, on the other hand, Schiaparelli showed her brilliance during this period of crisis, she designed clothing for Moulin Rouge film. She was also asked to design a dress for actress and singer Mae West, she refused to come to the United States to do the design (speaking of rising in your profession where you dictate your own terms), so instead, a manikin of Mae West body was sent to Schiaparelli so she would do the design.

Elsa Schiaparelli approach was more of an artwork and glamour while Chanel wanted to offer comfort and ease of mobility for women, if anything, this shows how each offered a piece of her background through their fashion. Schiaparelli’s fashion designs inspired by her aristocratic life and Chanel influenced from her days living in an orphanage, despite the big difference between them they both gave the world something it wanted. Schiaparelli and Chanel didn’t abandon fashion design in the thirties and forties, during World War I and II, showing their resilience despite hard circumstances, although Chanel did shut down her operations during the war.

Women had to contribute to war efforts by working in factories, they could not do that with the kind of dresses they wore at that time which made Chanel’s design contemporary to the mood of those days. Despite the mayhem of war, there were people who still wanted to have pleasures in life and that’s where Schiaparelli was able to deliver. Life goes on as they say.

During the war Schiaparelli and Chanel’s abilities to continue their fashion houses are lessons to learn from, when profits from their fashion sales dropped they both went to create perfumes which they both made money from, and actually this what kept them afloat for a long period of time, they also wanted to reach customers that could not afford their dresses, this is another lesson to learn, on how to diversify your ‘product offering’ to create a sustainable business. Today we have Chanel No 5 and Schiaparelli‘s Shocking perfumes. Entrepreneurs and innovators who produce work that goes on living way after they are gone reveals the power of their creations.

Lessons in Marketing

The rivalry between Schiaparelli and Chanel kept both their names on center stage and contributed tremendously in marketing and popularizing their brands and fashion houses given the media at that time was not as tech-driven as what we have today, stories of feuds (like the story I mentioned earlier when Chanel put Schiaparelli’s dress on fire), such stories kept people interested in both designers. Actually, you can find many t.v shows rely on such drama to hook their audiences, take the Kardashians as an example.

Finding Your Angel Investor or Venture Capitalist

If Etienne Balsan and Arthur Edward ‘Boy’ Capel were alive today they would’ve been called venture capitalists or angel investors. But in the thirties, I guess, such definitions didn’t exist so we will know them only as Coco Chanel’s lovers who financed the establishment the house of Chanel.

Bear in mind with the free apps and online platforms made available you can start with a very low cost.

Create your Creative Group 

Surround yourself with creatives, if not, create your own group, this is an all-time piece of wisdom you will find offered by all business speakers, the many tutorials out there on how to start a business in fashion, and from business influencers.

Chanel nurtured artists who became her inspirational group, Elsa Schiaparelli was also influenced by Salvadore Dali, Jean Cocteau, Christian Berard and Leonor Fini. Actually, Willis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, wore a dress designed by Schiaparelli in cooperation with Dali which was featured on Vogue magazine.

You can attend conferences or exhibitions, or join online groups to immerse yourself in whatever subject you want to learn more about

Today you can attend conferences or exhibitions, or join online groups to immerse yourself in whatever subject you want to learn more about, in the thirties a small group of elites made parties and fashion designers were among the people who would attend offering a venue for views and ideas to be exchanged.

Your Competition Can Be A Bliss

Schiaparelli and Chanel gave a purpose for one another, and fueled their appetite to do more and better, imagine yourself standing alone in your industry unchallenged by competition, how far can you get and keep innovating, I mean, look at the effort online content creators did and still doing to get their content noticed and the milestones they have passed as an internet community, this wouldn’t have happened if companies or individuals were not triggered to do better and perfect their work to be noticed among the crowd.

These two Fashion Designers were able to survive world wars and economic crashes although Elsa Schiaparelli eventually decided to close her fashion house, which later on the brand name was bought and re-opened.

Today, in the 21st century, we still have Chanel and Schiaparelli fashion houses, different owners might be but never the less the ability of these two women to establish fashion houses that surpassed their lives is admirable, how they were able to stifle circumstances to their advantage is genius.

Sources:

Coco Chanel Photo

Schiaparelli Pink Dress

Chanel Velvet Dress

Chanel Off-White Suit