10 September 2023

10 September

Elsa Schiaparelli - fashion designer

Clothes inspired by Surrealist art 

The designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who is regarded along with her rival Coco Chanel as one of the key figures in the fashion world between the two World Wars, was born on this day in 1890 in Rome.  Heavily influenced by the Surrealist cultural movement – the artists Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau were among her collaborators – she became a favourite of some of the world’s most recognisable women, including the American actresses Greta Garbo and Mae West, the German singer and actress Marlene Dietrich, and the socialite and heiress Daisy Fellowes.  Her style shaped the look of fashion in the 1920s and 1930s, often featuring elements of the trompe l’oeil artistic technique to create optical illusions, such as the dress she made with Dali’s collaboration that seemed to be full of rips and tears, or the evening coat she designed with Cocteau that featured two female profiles facing one another which, viewed another way, created the impression of a vase for the fabric roses adorning the shoulders and neck.  Other designs, such as the Lobster Dress and the Skeleton Dress, both influenced by Dali, satisfied her taste for the outrageous.  Read more…


Liliana Segre - holocaust survivor

Schoolgirl who was spared after family killed

Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre, who was one of only a small number of Italian children to return home after being deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War, was born on this day in 1930 in Milan.  Now a life member of the Italian Senate, Segre was shipped to the notorious camp in Nazi-occupied Poland when she was 13 years old, one of 776 Italians aged 14 and under to be sent to Auschwitz. Only 35 survived.  Forced to work in a munitions factory, she was twice moved to other camps during her time as a prisoner before being freed in May 1945, shortly after the Nazis surrendered to the Allies.  Born in to a successful Jewish family involved in the textile and leather goods industry, Liliana grew up in an apartment in Corso Magenta in the centre of Milan, not far from the Castello Sforzesco, to which her father, Alberto, had moved with his parents following the death of her mother, Lucia, from cancer when Liliana was still a baby.  She was unaware of being Jewish until the Fascist government introduced racial segregation laws in 1938, at which point she was expelled from her primary school.  Read more…


Historic victory at Rome Olympics

Bikila's golden moment for African athletics

History was made on this day at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome when Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila won the marathon.  Not only did he run the whole 26 mile 385 yards (42.195km) barefoot, he also became the first athlete from sub-Saharan Africa to win an Olympic gold medal.  Bikila retained the marathon title at Tokyo in 1964.  Subsequently, the middle and long-distance running events have become increasingly dominated by sub-Saharan runners, particularly Kenyans and Ethiopians.  The British runner Mo Farah - born in Somalia - continued that domination by winning both the 5,000m and 10,000m gold medals at consecutive summer Olympics in London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro this year.  In total, more than 40 gold medals at distances from 800m to the marathon have been won by sub-Saharan runners since Bikila's breakthrough.  Bikila competed in Rome only after a late call-up to the Ethiopia squad to fill a place vacated when a colleague became ill.  He arrived with no running shoes but hoped to be supplied with some by adidas, one of the Games sponsors.  However, by the time Bikila went to see their representatives in Rome, they had only a few pairs left and none would fit him comfortably, so he decided to run barefoot.  Read more…


Giovanni Gronchi – Italy’s third president

Opponent of Mussolini became head of state in 1955

Christian Democrat politician Giovanni Gronchi, who served as President of Italy from 1955 to 1962, was born on this day in 1887 at Pontedera in Tuscany.  He was elected to the Camera dei Deputati in 1919 and went on to become leader of a group of deputies opposed to Mussolini, but when the Fascist government suppressed this group he put his political career on hold.  Gronchi returned to politics towards the end of the Second World War and helped found the new Christian Democrat party. In 1955 he was chosen as the third President of the Republic of Italy, succeeding Luigi Einaudi.  His presidency was notable for his attempt to open a door into government for the Italian Socialist and Communist parties, which ultimately failed.  As a young man, Gronchi had obtained a degree in Literature and Philosophy at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa and worked as a teacher of classics in Parma, Massa di Carrara, Bergamo and Monza. He volunteered for military service during the First World War and afterwards became one of the founding members of the Catholic Italian Popular Party.  Read more…


The wedding of Stefano Türr and Adelina Bonaparte

Hungarian General married Napoleon’s beautiful great niece

The wedding of a Hungarian soldier who fought alongside Giuseppe Garibaldi to a woman who was the great niece of Napoleon Bonaparte took place on this day in 1861 in Mantua in Lombardy.  The bridegroom was Stefano Türr - Istvan Türr in Hungarian - a soldier, revolutionary, canal architect and engineer, who is remembered in Italy for the role he played in the battle for the country’s unification.  Türr took a major part in the Expedition of the Thousand and was promoted to General, commanding Italian troops as they moved north from Sicily to Salerno. He was appointed Governor of Salerno by Garibaldi. Victor Emanuel II made him an aide de camp and entrusted him with sensitive diplomatic matters.  The bride was Adelina Bonaparte Wyse, who was a cousin of Napoleon III of France and granddaughter of Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon I’s brother.  Türr had been accepted into the Austrian Army at the age of 17, but while stationed in Lombardy in 1848 had witnessed the cruel reprisals taken against rebellious Italians at Monza and changed his loyalties.  In 1849 he crossed a bridge over the Ticino river and joined the Piedmont side.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Elsa Schiaparelli: A Biography, by  Meryle Secrest

One of the most extraordinary fashion designers of the twentieth century, Elsa Schiaparelli was an integral figure in the artistic movement of the times. Her collaborations with artists such as Man Ray, Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau, and Alberto Giacometti elevated the field of women's clothing design into the realm of art.  Her story is one of pluck, determination, and talent with scandal as spice. As the daughter of minor Italian nobility whose disastrous first marriage to a Theosophist caused near penury, she transformed herself into a designer of great imagination and, along with Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, she was one of the few female figures in the field at that time.

Meryle Secrest has earned a reputation as a sharp, incisive biographer. Born and educated in Bath, England, but resident in Washington, D.C., she has crafted fine biographies of Salvador Dalí, Frank Lloyd Wright, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers, Joseph Duveen and Amedeo Modigliani among others. 

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