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Jean Schlumberger for Schiaparelli Harlequin Brooc
Jean Schlumberger for Schiaparelli Harlequin Brooch, Commedia dell'Arte Collection Spring 1939, French

Elsa Schiaparelli Online Sale at 1stdibs

A collection of rare artist collaborations and couture by the Italian is offered. And we speak to the fashion director responsible

Based in New York, 1stdibs fashion director Clair Watson has been in the vintage business for over 20 years. The instigator behind the vintage website's Elsa Schiaparelli auction, which launches today, sourced by dealer Vintage Luxury, Watson is a total subscriber to the Paris-based Italian designer, who worked in the early part of the 20th century, contextualising Schiaparelli's work with ease.

She [Schiaparelli] was known as the artistic designer, as opposed to her contemporary Chanel who was the 'fashion professional'. She was considered the most influential even then because she combined ideas, intelligence in a way we can all be inspired by today – we're all looking for that in a designer, those qualities and that creativity

Ahead of the Metropolitan Museum's upcoming 'Impossible Conversations' exhibit between Prada and the art-influenced designer, Dazed Digital caught up with Watson to talk her influence, the art of collecting and that illusive Salvador Dalí collaborative compact. If you're buying, you'll need serious dollar bills...

Dazed Digital: How difficult is it to find all these pieces in great condition? A lot must've been lost or destroyed – or is in museums...
Clair Watson:
Right. These pieces have been amassed for decades by master collectors and the dealer, Vintage Luxury, is acknowledged in having the preminent collection worldwide. These pieces were picked up at a time when it really was for the expert few, now we accept historical and vintage pieces as being very relevant to how we dress today. We're focusing between haute couture pieces and Schiaparelli's collaborations with amazing artists, the avantgarde milieu of the 1930s. And those are one-offs, most of them have been in major museums and exhibitions, including the seminal Schiaparelli exhibit in Philadelphia, 2003. The earliest have price tags on them to reflect this, but they're worth it – you don't come across her everyday. Even at auction it's rare. Paris 2009 was the last major sale, where they had the famous Cocteau embroidered jacket...

DD: That's such a brilliant collaboration...
Clair Watson:
Absolutely. She was all about collaboration and among her many firsts and unique attributes, that was one of them. She was known as the artistic designer, as opposed to her contemporary Chanel who was the 'fashion professional'. She was considered the most influential even then because she combined ideas, intelligence in a way we can all be inspired by today – we're all looking for that in a designer, those qualities and that creativity.

DD: Do you have a favourite piece from the sale?
Clair Watson:
I have to say the Dalí compact. It coming on to the open market is incredible, I couldn't find the last time the original had been sold, only later licensed copies have come up at various auctions. This particular one is original and was exhibited not only in Philadelphia but at the Museum des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. It's very important. Period.

DD: How do you see her legacy? You mentioned how Schiaparelli opened fashion up to collaborations...
Clair Watson: She opened up many things, whether designers are aware of it or not. She had this bold, audacious spirit which Diana Vreeland called her 'greatest innovation'. She also had an incredible marketing acumen, which we're all aware of today, when marketing has probably overwhelmed the creative spirit. Schiaparelli had an innovative use of fabrics too, working with the leading textile manufacturers to create her own, using acrylics in a brand new way and developing her own crepe. The need to find the new was a hallmark of what she was all about.

She was interested in what was happening in the world around her – she said something amazing, that "fashion is born by small facts, trends or even politics, never by small treats." When the Empire State Building was built and the first Transatlantic Clipper went out, all these events inspired her design. As the early pioneers of solo flights were off, she was doing designs with wings. I'm a total fan – you can hear it! She did prints of her early press clippings too. How hilarious is that?

DD: You must be looking forward to Impossible Conversations at the Met...
Clair Watson:
Very much! Aren't you? Getting Baz Luhrmann involved is such a brilliant idea – he did Moulin Rouge in 2001 but Schiaparelli designed costumes for the original 1952 version. That's already a wonderfully impossible conversation happening. What comes over immediately with the exhibition, about Schiaparelli and Prada is that these are two women with very strong personal identity. Aside from comparing designs, that basic psyche that women should dare universally is something to relate to.

DD: Do you have any tips on collecting for the future?
Clair Watson:
The collector breed is very specific, they're addicts. By the best you can afford and the most fashion-forward innovators you can. The designers that people are shocked by now are going to earn their place in history.