Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me

Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me

Patricia Volk

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 0345803426

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

An NPR Best Book of the Year
Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

How does a girl fashion herself into a woman? In this richly illustrated memoir, writer Patricia Volk juxtaposes her two childhood idols to find her answer. Her mother, Audrey, was an upper-middle-class New Yorker and a great beauty—meticulously groomed, proudly conventional. Elsa Schiaparelli was an avant-garde fashion designer whose creations broke every rule and elevated clothing into art. While growing up in Audrey's strict household, Patricia read Schiap's freewheeling autobiography and was transformed by it.
            Shocked weaves Audrey's traditional notions of domesticity with Schiap's often outrageous ideas, giving us a revelatory meditation on beauty and on being a daughter, sister, and mother—and demonstrating, meanwhile, how a single book can change a life. 

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hostess at Schrafft’s. The cashier at Rappaport’s and the pharmacist at Whelan’s, where we get Vicks VapoRub for growing pains. At Indian Walk, the salesman measures my feet for Mary Janes and says, “You have a very beautiful mother, little girl. Do you know that?” When a man tips his hat on Broadway and says, “Mrs. Volk! How lovely to see you!,” my mother says, “Patty, this is Mr. Lazar, a customer of your father’s.” We shake hands. “How do you do, Mr. Lazar?” I say, or “Nice to meet you, Mr.

unless Audrey chooses to sit one out. Then I get to watch him pull out all the stops. He glides across the floor. He swirls, dips and breaks away. Another woman “reads” his signals. Dancers give them room. He laughs. The woman laughs too. I check my mother’s reaction. Her face idles in neutral. Audrey sends me to Helen Rigby’s for tap, Madame Svoboda’s for ballet and, for social dancing, the Viola Wolff School of the Dance. Boys and girls wear party clothes and white gloves. I’m the tallest girl

Dresses with georgette collars. Graduation gowns. A green velvet coat with Persian-lamb trim. Polly Morgen is what is called “good with a needle.” Audrey can sew too. It is a wife’s responsibility to maintain her husband’s socks. When one of Cecil’s develops a hole in the heel, Audrey repairs it. Her sewing box is a square duplex woven like a basket. Tidy spools of jewel-colored thread line up in the top story. From the basement she locates her darning egg. It looks like a rattle. She slips the

to discover throughout my career, that people would always follow my ideas enthusiastically, and try without discussion to do what I told them.” (Schiap’s friend Dalí calls this effect “paranoiac delirium.” He too believes he can bend people to his will and make them act out his ideas.) Schiap folds her love of Surrealism into the design. The pullover sports an ecru butterfly bow and deep cuffs knitted right into the sweater. On her third try, Mike gets it right. What happens next makes

Matisse. It’s eight-twenty. At nine-thirty, the doors to Savage Beauty, the exhibition of the clothes and accessories of Alexander McQueen, will open. Coming toward me, a man pushes a metal rack along the pavement. Hangers are hung with what looks like newspapers. As he draws closer, I see they’re dresses made out of The New York Times, elaborate dresses with pleated skirts, panniers and ruffs. Schiap made clothes out of silk printed with her newspaper reviews. On The Times Web site, Bill

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