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Schiaparelli returns to the catwalk in Paris

(Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

(Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Who was the fashion genius who mixed with Picasso, Duchamp and Man Ray – and dressed herself as a radish?

The answer: Elsa Schiaparelli, whose label returned to the Paris catwalks yesterday for the first time in 60 years. With bright wigs and crumpled Napoleon hats, new creative director Marco Zanini channelled the Italian designer’s eccentric approach to headwear. (She once designed a hat that looked like a high-heeled shoe, based on a photograph of her friend Salvador Dalí wearing a woman's shoe on his head.) Born in 1890, Schiaparelli mixed with the greatest artists of her day – there are portraits of her by Man Ray and Picasso.

In her honour, here are five amazing facts about Coco Chanel’s greatest rival.

She turned a former king’s wife into a lobster

Collaborating with Dalí, she designed a dress covered in a lobster created by the Surrealist painter that was worn by Wallis Simpson before her wedding to the Duke of Windsor. According to the writer Peter Conrad: “Its clawing pincers make their way up the split between the future duchess's legs and grip her genitals”

She pioneered the fashion show as theatrical event

Her 1938 Circus Collection show saw models swinging through the windows of her salon, wearing clown hats and carrying balloon-shaped handbags. The range featured more Dalí collaborations, a black crepe Skeleton dress with padding resembling bones, and a Tears dress covered in a Dalí trompe l’oeil print with savage rips suggesting flayed flesh (and inspired by his Surrealist paintings showing figures in ripped skin-tight clothing).

She was forced into a convent

After publishing a book of erotic poetry at the age of 21, Schiaparelli’s parents sent her to a convent. She was released at the age of 22 after staging a hunger strike.

Her uncle named a crater on Mars

The designer was the niece of astrophysicist Giovanni Schiaparelli. He doted on her because the beauty spots on her cheek were in the shape of the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear.

She invented the power suit and shocking pink - and dressed as a radish

As well as using a violent magenta she called ‘shocking’ as her signature colour, Schiaparelli made the female form starkly angular, with squared-off shoulders and an inverted trapezoid shape. The new look – which she labelled “the wooden soldier silhouette” – was worn by Marlene Dietrich, Lauren Bacall and Katharine Hepburn. At a 1949 ball in Paris, Schiaparelli wore a radish costume, with a chorus of friends dressed as attacking birds. The designer Yves Saint Laurent said about her: "She slapped Paris. She smacked it. She tortured it. She bewitched it. And it fell madly in love with her.”

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