The Queen of Whimsy meets the King of Surrealism
This plush example of Mae West’s lips in the Brighton Museum brought me to a standstill. After all, this homage in sofa form to Mae by Salvador Dali is surely a 20th century design icon- and it’s always a little, well, surreal to see design icons in real life!
But what I hadn‘t actually realised (until I peered closely at the museum display text) was that before Dali’s sofa came this Surrealist painting:
That’s The Face of Mae West, which may be used as an apartment, 1934-5. Those curtains of hair! That fireplace nose! Ha. There’s an amazing room in the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Spain, that shows you how this painting could actually be used as a blueprint for an apartment here.
This painting inspired a whole snowballing creative process, not just for Dali himself and his subsequent sofa, but legendary couturiere Elsa Schiaparelli, Queen of Whimsical buttons (or should that just be Queen of Whimsy full-stop?). In around 1937 Schiaparelli took Dali’s idea of Mae West’s lips and made them into buttons. And here they are, also stumbled across in the Brighton Museum:
You won’t be surprised to hear that Schiaparelli had not one but two of Dali’s lips sofas in her apartment. In satin. And what colour but Shocking pink, the colour she “invented”. This whole interconnected web of Mae West themed creativity continued when Schiaparelli actually designed outfits for Mae herself to wear in the film Every Day’s a Holiday in 1938.
Schiaparelli and Dali collaborated on entire outfits together too. Such as the Torn Flesh Dress (which quite frankly makes me shudder) and the Lobster dress. You can see both of these outfits over at Worn Through in an article by Heather Vaughan- an interesting read with tons more info on on Surrealism and Schiaparelli…