Models wearing Schiaparelli Desk Suit, ‘Vogue’, 1936
Inscribed with 'Beaton Cavalcade: 60' and 'Fashion picture made in early 1930s in Paris - note surrealist influence' on reverse
Silver gelatin print, mounted on board, printed before 1945
9 1/4 x 7 1/2 inches
Beaton first established his reputation photographing the ‘Bright Young Things’ of British high society. It was through photographing the Sitwell sisters that he captured the attention of Vogue, and went on to work for the magazine as a photographer, caricaturist, and illustrator for thirty years.
This photograph highlights Beaton’s Surrealist leanings, collaborating with two other great Surrealist thinkers in their fields, Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dalí. The mis-en-scene depicts two models standing apart from one another, one hiding their face, the other with arms aloft, legs wide. The scenery alludes to Dalí’s famous long horizon, with theatrical rocks set haphazardly alongside them. The models wear Elsa Schiaparelli’s Desk Suit – a striking, long coat ending at the calf, with pockets resembling drawers at their waist and chest.
Schiaparelli was widely touted as the ‘only designer who understands Surrealism’. Taken for a Schiaparelli campaign in Vogue, September 1936, the present photograph depicts one of the designer’s first collaborations with Dalí, whom she worked with from 1936 through 1939. In other pictures from the same campaign, the models hold issues of Minotaure, the Surrealist magazine with a cover designed by Dalí.
The Desk Suit was directly inspired by Dalí’s Venus de Milo with Drawers. In this piece, Dalí reconfigured the classical Greek sculpture by embedding drawers in place of genitalia into the plaster cast. Throughout his oeuvre, Dalí continually encodes female orifices as drawers, in a Freudian gesture of substitution and erotic exchange.
Elsa Schiaparelli also collaborated with Dalí on a number of other Surreal pieces, including: Lamb Chop Hat (1937), Shoe Hat and Lip Jacket (1937), Skeleton Gown (1938), and Ink Pot Hat (1938).