My Lobster Dress- Where It Begins

I adore slow, long-term projects- especially those which involve my husband in some way.  For example, we learned to hand-dye and use traditional wax-resist batik techniques to make some of the fabrics I later turned into a Drunkard’s Path quilt.  The project took two years to complete.  Some couples go to the movies.  That summer, we played with dye, salt and wax in the backyard.  It was wonderful.

In 1937, Italian designer Elsa Sciaparelli and surrealist painter Salvador Dali created this gown.  At the time, Dali was more or less obsessed with lobsters, which he saw as a symbol of sexuality.  I’m not entirely sure why, which is partly why I’m intrigued by this dress.  I like to think about those two great artistic minds of 1930’s Europe working on this delightful visual joke.  We see the punchline, but how did the joke begin?

From Esoteric Curiosa, a very interesting article

Perhaps I like it purely to be contrary.  That sounds like me.  I enjoy inappropriate combinations- a simple sheer white silk organza gown crafted by none other than Schiaparelli, with a brilliant red lobster scrawled suggestively down the front.  The contrarian in me is further pleased that none other than Wallis Simpson herself wore this dress for a magazine spread to boost her public relations.

The Ready-To-Wear version of the Lobster Dress, from Shelf Appeal

This dress draws me, over and over again I ponder its punchline and wonder where this joke began.  When my husband asked me what I want for Christmas this year, I was prepared.  “I’d like 4 metres of silk organza painted with a lobster.  That’s all.”  He knows of my fixation, so the request wasn’t quite unexpected.

Dali- what a sense of humor

I don’t expect the dress to be finished for some time but I want to share the progress because it delights me, very deeply.  I also don’t expect my finished Lobster Dress to look much like Schiaparelli’s.  I’m stealing her punchline but making up my own joke.  So to speak.

Tomorrow: “Other” lobster dresses.  Oh yes.

Also–  I apologize for flooding Reader and whatever else with old posts this morning.  It happens every time I try to update links, I think at this point I’ll just leave everything as-is.  Sorry!


35 comments

  1. Awesome. When you said your husband was painting fabric, I had no idea you meant “painting a lobster on fabric.” Dali was an eccentric, for sure.

  2. I love this and I smile- you are fortunate to have a husband who not only goes along for the ride, but helps steer! My husband is also my accomplice alot too- lucky us….can’t wait to see this one. I’m fighting the urge to google ‘lobster sexuality’…..

    • I am fortunate! I’m really pleased to “share” his talents with the internets…. Accomplice is a good word, we’ve not had much time for that in the past few years.. This year he spent a lot of time out in the field researching, and then months on end writing his thesis. I was *waiting* for that to finish so I could rope him into this. :)

      Read down the comments, Cat apparently did with interesting results. :)

    • I always wanted to go to Maine. Ever heard of a “slipper lobster”? They’re even weirder looking than a regular lobster, and they’re the local lobster here. I have a post prepared on them for later this week.. Oooooh they’re icky and awesome.

      • :-) thanks but thats not neccecary, i should be able to paint my silk by myself after 30 years of arts and fashion – but i´m soooo lazy……….
        in a few weeks i have a new working room in our new house and maybe i do something with painting my fabric and sew me a new dress or two, three……and send you a picture (did you look at my oldscool website?)

      • I did look at your website, and admired your Kollektionen. Rather cool. :)

        I have so many “test” half-projects around here, it’d be a relief to get rid of them.. Maybe I need an etsy store or something. I’m lazy, too, and my husband is a better painter than me, so…

  3. I love this idea! Schiaparelli is one of my favorite designers of all time, Dali is one of my favorite artists of all time, and that dress is one of my favorite dresses of all time. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this myself, although I do have a skirt that I painted lobsters on, it just hasn’t been sewn together yet. I can’t wait to read that article sometime when I’m not late for work. Good luck with the project I can’t wait to read more about it!

    • Thanks! I love Sciaparelli, too, both her legendary attention to detail as well as her aesthetic… I need to find a good biography of her for review. Have you seen Dali’s documentary he made in the 70’s for French tv? I usually get about fifteen minutes into it and think “I’m not conceptual enough to be around this guy right now…” ;)

    • I give it til next March or April. It’ll be a while…. There’s the slip to consider, the cut, so much…

      But at least now I can post updates… Every so often lately I think “oooh I want to share that” and can’t because it would be out of nowhere.. :)

    • Hehhehee. It’s funny when you let your brain focus on one thing for a while… We’re pretty into the lobster at the moment in our house.. hehe.

  4. From Wikipedia: “Recent research suggests that lobsters may not slow down, weaken, or lose fertility with age. In fact, older lobsters are more fertile than younger lobsters.”

    Why Dali, you cheeky monkey!

  5. Have you been to the Dali cafe in Murwillumbah? I don’t know if it’s even still there but there used to be a cafe down at the back of an arcade decked out in all sorts of Daliesque furniture and artwork and run by a man sporting a fine Dali moustache. Looking forward to seeing your progress!

    • No I haven’t, but I’ll be down that way over Christmas. I’ll check it out and report back! Murbah has some surprisingly good cafe culture despite its relative isolation…

  6. Yay! It begins! I can’t wait to see what it will look like!

    I wonder about the lobster and sexuality. Are they supposed to be an aphrodisiac? Is it the red when umm…hot thing? Is it the phallic tail and umm…cleft-y claws? (Gosh, I had no idea my mind could come up with so many possibilities! I surprise myself!)

    When I think about lobsters and sexuality all I can think of is a Friends episode where someone goes on about linked lobster claws and wanting to find her ‘lobster’. It may be the only Friends episode I ever saw!

    • I know… After I posted last night, I thought of six or seven references, then told Stephen about them and he came up with more… It’s indecent in an intellectual sort of way, which is part of the fun of surrealism, right?

      I don’t think I’ve seen that episode of Friends…

  7. This is a very awesome idea. The lobster is a bit on an in-joke with a friend of mine so seeing it on a dress is quite hilarious – I never knew such existed. The thought of copying your idea somehow is very strong…. ;-P (dont worry, I wont go doing that in a hurry)

    • I would LOVE to hear the in-joke… And if you “copy,” that’s fine with me. Shared inspiration, and I’m sure we’d come up with very very different dresses.

  8. I love the Lobster dress and that it represents a great collaboration between art and fashion. It is also brilliant because it is taking neither of these things too seriously. I have been toying with the idea of of making a Lobster dress for ages, but not a lobster. I’m not sure what yet, but something quirky and obscure. I have the means to screenprint and plan on cutting the pattern first then printing the fabric. Combining my two loves and making something amazing. I look forward to seeing your progress.

    • Keep your mind open, the quirky and obscure thing will come up to you one day and shake your hand. Then you’ll shout “EUREKA!” and get to painting. :) I’d really, really love to see what comes of your idea and your method.

      I believe husband is going to straight-up paint the fabric with silk paints. Or we may try Warhol’s blotted line technique if just painting doesn’t work well. I’ll document all of it, of course.

  9. Sounds like fun! There was so much rare creative collaboration in that generation of artists, constant genre crossover… makes sense to make the dress that way!

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