The spirited account of how an encounter with a memoir by couturier Elsa Schiaparelli (1890–1973) transformed a young girl’s view of what it meant to be a woman.
Novelist Volk (To My Dearest Friends, 2007, etc.) adored her movie-star gorgeous mother Audrey. However, even as a child, she could never quite countenance the “blind adherence to the mystifying virtue of ‘seemly’ [female] behavior” that Audrey demanded of her. She unexpectedly found another, more subversive model for feminine behavior in Schiaparelli, whose autobiography, Shocking Life (1954), Volk read at age 10. Like the author, “Schiap” was a much-loved child. But she was also one her parents “thought of as ‘difficult,’ ” who could never buy into the idea that there was “a right way and a wrong way” to do things. Schiap was no great beauty, something Volk also understood. Yet she still managed to create an enduring legacy as an avant-garde fashion designer with a genuinely artistic flair. Schiaparelli’s remarkable story provided Volk the “shock” she needed to grow away from Audrey’s certitudes—about everything from clothes to men to life itself—and into her own, unique sensibilities. If Schiap could be successful designing dresses that mimicked skeletal forms or hats that looked like shoes, then anything was possible for creative women who couldn’t fit the pre-existing gender mold that Audrey both touted and exemplified. Generously illustrated with images from the two worlds Volk depicts—that of her family and of Schiaparelli—the narrative that emerges from Volk’s deft interweaving of lives is as sharp-eyed as it is wickedly funny. Her attention to detail, especially in her evocations of 1950s New York, is nothing short of delicious.
Witty, tender and vividly nostalgic.