Lobster Dress and Elsa Schiaparelli 1937 by Carly Hobson PDF  | Print |  E-mail

 working on dress

I am a Ryerson University second year design student, who is currently involved in a historical costume exhibit at the textiles museum of Toronto. I was able to participate in this event because our costume design professor presented a generous opportunity to showcase our designs when finished. The course I have been involved in is a costume history program that provides insight into the fashions during the Middle Ages until the current time period. The students participate in interesting lectures and various assignments throughout the semester. One of the assignments was reproduction research assignment. In this research assignment, we were required to select a historical garment, accessory, or technique to research and reproduce. The aim of the project is to take a hands-on approach to understanding how historical garments were made and worn.

The historical garment I selected for this assignment is the famous Lobster Dress, designed by Elsa Schiaparelli in 1937 (Richard, pg 139). The creator of the lobster dress, Elsa Schiaparelli, is a well-known female fashion designer during the 1920’s and on (Berg, paragraph 8). During the time Schiaparelli became a couturier, women began to have an increasing significance in the fashion industry, providing themselves with opportunities to obtain positions of influence and power (Arnold, pgs 92-93). As a powerful fashion figure, Elsa Schiaparelli’s works consist of the Shoe Hat, Skeleton Dress, the Mirror Suit, and many other remarkable garments (Berg, paragraph 7). Schiaparelli’s runway shows were acted out as plays and parades that included lighting effects, magic tricks and stunts, instead of the original catwalk (Berg, paragraph 6). Schiaparelli also collaborated with various artists during the period she was a designer (Berg, paragraph 8).


One of the artists Schiaparelli worked with was Salvador Dali. Dali is a famous surrealist, who was very popular in the United States during the 1930’s and still is today. Dali and Schiaparelli collaborated on many projects such as the Shoe Hat, the Lamb Chop Hat, the Skeleton Dress, and many other designs (Finkelstein, pg 175). One of these designs was the Lobster Dress. Salvador Dali’s artwork named the Lobster Phone was the inspiration for Schiaparelli’s evening dress. The lobster was a favored symbol for Dali; he utilized it in various artworks. The placement of the lobster is covering the women’s genitalia, if she were to be naked, flaunting a surrealist symbol of sexual acts and reproductive organs. This gesture portrays an expression of sexual desires and interests (Martin, pg 139-140). When transferring the lobster onto the dress Dali had intended to use paint and mayonnaise to finish the gown, however Schiaparelli would not allow him (Blum, pg 135).


Once researching information on the Lobster Dress, I began to start my process by selecting my fabrics. The Lobster Dress is made of silk organza; therefore my garment is constructed with silk organza and lightweight cotton. For my pattern, I used a standard size 10 dress blocks and divided it into a bodice and skirt. During the construction process I painted the large red lobster and green parsley leaves on the silk organza dress. The paints I used are silk paints that set with heat, called Pebeo Setacolor Transparent Paints. Silk paints are usually liquid or solid and are set by either heat or steam. I did not require resists, such as Gutta, because of the fact that the type of paints I used did not bleed. When applying my paint I used fine tip paintbrushes to obtain details in the images (Tuckman, pgs 19-23). To finish the garment I inserted a 22-inch zipper in the back center seams and hand stitched a blind stitch on the hem, armholes and neckline of the garment to give the edges a finished look.


the lobster dress

I thoroughly enjoyed this assignment and it provides me with a great knowledge on the history of costume. I look forward to participating in other historical fashion programs in the next years during my studies at Ryerson University. I intend to further pursue my studies in costume design, hoping to one day in the current future to obtain a career in this field, possibly in a museum or theater.  


Arnold, Rebecca. The American look: fashion, sportswear and the image of women in 1930s and 1940s New York. London: I.B. Tauris, 2009. Print.

Bane, Allyne. Flat pattern design. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972. Print.

Blum, Dilys. Shocking!: the art and fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum Of Art, 2003. Print.

Dorner, Jane. Fashion in the twenties & thirties,. London: Allan, 1973. Print.

"Elsa Schiaparelli." Berg Fashion Library. Berg Publisers, 2010. Web. 28 Oct. 2011. <www.bergfashionlibrary.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/view/bazf/bazf00504.xml?q=lobster%20dress&isfuzzy=no>.

Finkelstein, Haim N.. Salvador Dali’s art and writing, 1927-1942: the metamorphoses of Narcissus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.

Hollen, Norma, Jane Saddler, Anna Langford, and Sara Kadolph. Textiles. Sixth ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1988. Print.

Mansfield, Evelyn A.. Clothing construction . Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953. Print.

Martin, Richard. Fashion and surrealism. New York: Rizzoli, 1987. Print.

Pine, Julia. "“New Skin, a New Land!”: Dalí’s American Metamorphosis. "English Studies in Canada 34.1 (2008): 37-58. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 Oct. 2011.

Tuckman, Diane, and Jan Janas. The complete book of silk painting. New York: North Light Books, 1992. Print.

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