Saturday, January 22, 2011

Style Icons Iris Apfel, Elsa Schiaparelli & Diana Vreeland in Tunis

Iris Apfel with her Tunisian hostess, Fawzia Gherab, in the late 60’s

Iris Apfel shopping for embroideries in the local souk

Guests having lunch at the d’Erlanger’s white villa at Sidi Bou Said
In the 1930’s Diana Vreeland was living in London with her husband Reed. While there, they formed a cosmopolitan circle friends, who would gather in exotic settings for house parties. The most memorable of these took place in 1931 at the sumptuous Tunisian home of Baron and Baroness d’Erlanger. Amongst the guests was famed interior designer and couture client, Elsie de Wolfe. The house, which had white domes and minarets, sat five hundred feet above the Mediterranean Sea, in the picturesque village of Sidi Bou Said. The old Baron was a French banker who had set up his business in London, and he and his wife were the parents of Diana and Reed’s friends Leo and Edwina d’Erlanger.

The guests would be greeted at a large marble terrace that stretched to the door of the palace. There were six servants to help with the countless pieces of luggage, “piled high like the equipment of an explorer’s expedition.” Diana recalled that only menservants waited on them wearing “short blue jackets, fezzes, and the pale blue and white sashes of the house livery.”

In the marble hall an alabaster bowl, “full of floating flowers, dripped water into a square pool that flowed away in a little canal to the outer courtyard, and smoking incense burners gave off the odor of amber.”

At dinner everyone sat on dark velvet covered banquets at a long table “set with gilded goblets and fragrant bouquets of jasmine." Many of the guests wore oriental themed costumes designed by the likes of Vionnet and Lanvin.

The Paris couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, dressed in traditional Bedouin costume next to a Tunisian dressmaker, 1936; A wedding veil by Elsa Schiaparelli, 1935
One designer with deep connections to Tunisia was Elsa Schiaparelli. Her father was a well known professor and scholar who translated ancient texts from Arabic and Persian. As a child Schiaparelli visited Tunisia with her father. It would be the first of many trips, which would eventually serve as a source of inspiration for the designer.

Some of Schiaparelli’s greatest fashion innovations came from studying Tunisian dressmaking techniques. These included traditional methods of sewing, draping, as well as observing the way Tunisian women twisted their veils around their bodies. Over the years the designer introduced a number of Arab influences into her Paris couture collections, such as oriental breeches, embroidered shirts and wrapped turbans.

Eventually she purchased a house in Hammamet; spending her retirement moving between Paris and Tunisia until she passed away on November 13th, 1973.

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1 comment:

Nicola said...

I have loved schiaparellis work since college but I never knew of the tunis connection how facinating. Thankyou for these bits of information