THE MOMENT: Schiaparelli’s Skeleton Dress

Introducing The Moment, a new column about fashion iconography. Every week, writer Mishal Cazmi will highlight an iconic piece and explore its influence on style and pop culture.

In 1938, Elsa Schiaparelli unveiled an unusual dress. Not unusual by her standards, of course. By then, the designer was already known for her avant-garde approach to fashion and her friendships with Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, the A-list Dadaists and Surrealists of her time. The creation, an affront to many and loved by few, was named the Skeleton Dress.

It was a collaboration (the first of many) with surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, and appeared as part of Schiaparelli’s Circus Collection. Most likely inspired by the Surrealist preoccupation with the human body, the aptly named dress was made of black crepe, with trapunto quilting underneath to give it the anatomically appropriate effect of a spine, ribcage and leg bones.

Since then, the skeleton motif has been reincarnated in countless forms on the runway by designers such as Alexander McQueen, Christian Lacroix and the Mulleavy sisters at Rodarte, who featured it in their Spring 2009 collection and again in their diffusion line for Target. And then came Lady Gaga.

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