How Coco Chanel Inspired Salvador Dalí


By the time Salvador Dalí first visited Paris in 1926, Coco Chanel had already established herself as the premiere designer of French luxury fashion. Amidst the various creative circles that proliferated in Paris during the 1920s and ’30s, the Surrealist artist and fashion designer met and forged a valuable relationship. Chanel’s impression on Dalí–who already had a fascination with fashion and famously collaborated with Elsa Schiaparelli–manifested in his artwork and lead him to design theatrical costumes, clothes, and other works that merged art and fashion. On what would have been Dali’s 115th birthday, CR examines how the two figures were entwined over the years.

While Chanel and Dalí were both majorly successful in their respective creative fields, the pair were quite different in their approaches. Dalí was known for his eccentricities, which fueled his artwork and seeped into his social life. Chanel, on the other hand, had built her fashion empire on a liberated yet refined sensibility; she was the epitome of French elegance. Their differences, however, made for a dynamic friendship and reportedly a romantic relationship, too, despite Dalí’s marriage to his wife Gala.

In the late 1930s, Chanel hosted Dalí at Villa La Pausa, her home on the French Riviera. There, Chanel offered Dalí studio space to work on his paintings. It was likely that the artist worked on his complex piece Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach there. The painting features a sandy landscape filled with multiple layers of optical illusions and double images.

Other guests at Villa La Pausa reflected Chanel’s interest in the arts, and included Russian-born composer Igor Stravinsky and Italian director Luchino Visconti, in addition to other creatives like Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso. Chanel, who admired the theater and designed costumes for the ballet, opera, plays, and film, further connected Dalí to the theater world. The artist had already created costumes for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo’s 1937 production of Tristan Fou, collaborating with Elsa Schiaparelli. In 1939, Dalí fashioned the set and clothing for the Bacchanale ballet. Chanel assisted him with creating the memorable costumes, featuring outlandish elements such as a hoop skirt covered in teeth and a men’s ensemble that included red lobsters, which was an overt sexual symbol that Dalí would use in later fashion designs.

Beyond his costumes, Dali’s other fashion designs were infused with his Surrealist vision. Collaborations with Schiaparelli and Christian Dior resulted in wearable artworks that played on elements of illusion and avant-garde aesthetics. Dalí also explored other areas connected to fashion, designing textiles, jewelry, and fragrance bottles. For his jeweled creations, such as The Eye of Time, Dalí worked with Duke Fulco di Verdura, a rising jewelry designer who Chanel employed for her jewelry designs.

Chanel’s influence was also apparent in The Essence of Dalí, a perfume bottle with a silhouette mimicking the rectangular profile of Chanel No. 5. Instead of Chanel’s label on the surface of the bottle, Dalí placed a close-up of image of eyes and a moustache resembling the artist’s own. His ability to apply Surrealist concepts to fashion resulted in whimsical creations, and his relationship with Chanel was the catalyst for some of his most inspired pieces.


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