Fashion

A Fierce Romance of Art and Fashion: The Friendship of Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel

Errika Gerakiti 18 September 2020 min Read

When Dali moved to Paris in 1926, Chanel was already a famous fashion designer. Dali had already worked in the fashion industry, as he had collaborated with Elsa Schiaparelli. But, Coco also introduced him to theatrical costume design, jewelry, and other things that combined both art and fashion. They both had quite different personalities. Dali was eccentric in his social life and his work. Chanel was liberated but chic and elegant. Despite their differences, the friendship between Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel was dynamic and it reportedly resulted in a love affair.

Villa La Pausa

In the late 1930s, Chanel invited Dali to Villa La Pausa, her home on the French Riviera. She provided him with a studio and a workplace where he could create. She was very into art and had hosted many artists at her home including, Igor Stravinsky (composer), Luchino Visconti (film director), Jean Cocteau (poet), and Pablo Picasso.

The Friendship of Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel: The Friendship of Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel. Salvador Dali reading on the mantlepiece at the Villa La Pausa, c.1938, Artnet.
The Friendship of Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel: Salvador Dali reading on the mantlepiece at the Villa La Pausa, c.1938, photographer unknown. Artnet.

While staying at Villa La Pausa, Dali created his work Endless Enigma. It is also believed that whilst there he worked on Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach.

Salvador Dalí, The Endless Enigma, 1938, oil on canvas, © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí / 2013, ProLitteris, Zurich.
The Friendship of Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel: Salvador Dalí, The Endless Enigma, 1938, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, ProLitteris Zurich.
The Friendship of Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel: Salvador Dali, Apparition of face and fruit dish on a beach, 1938, oil on canvas, 
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, USA.
The Friendship of Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel: Salvador Dali, Apparition of face and fruit dish on a beach, 1938, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, USA. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí.

Theatre

Chanel also loved the theatre and she had designed costumes for ballets, operas, plays, and films. So, she introduced it to Dali. Dali had already created costumes for the production Tristan Fou, of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1937, along with Elsa Schiaparelli. In 1939, he worked with Chanel for the Bacchanale ballet. Coco helped him create unique costumes. That is, they featured eccentric elements on ordinary clothes. For example, the pair created a hoop skirt covered in teeth and a men's ensemble decorated with red lobsters. The red lobster would later become a sexual symbol that Dali would use in his fashion designs.

The Friendship of Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel. Salvador Dali, Costume designs for the Bacchanale ballet, 1939. Artsy.
The Friendship of Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel: Salvador Dali, Costume designs for the Bacchanale ballet, 1939, photography by Horst P.Horts.Artsy.

Jewelry and perfumes

Dali's collaborations with Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior resulted in wearable surreal artworks. That is, they included elements of avant-garde aesthetics and illusion. However, Dali didn't stop there. He explored other areas of fashion too, such as textiles, jewelry, and fragrance bottles. For certain items of jewelry, for example, The Eye of Time, Dali worked with Duke Fulco di Verdura. Verdura was a new jewelry designer, employed by Chanel for her own jewelry designs.

The Friendship of Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel.Example of The Eye of Time worn. Artsy.
The Friendship of Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel: Example of The Eye of Time worn, photographer unknown. Artsy.
Salavdor Dali, The Eye of Time, © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, VEGAP, 2016. Courtesy of Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí.
The Friendship of Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel: Salavdor Dali, The Eye of Time, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí.

Naturally, Chanel's influence is apparent elsewhere too. Dali designed the Essence of Dali, whose bottle mimics the Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle. However, he placed a pair of eyes and a mustache, resembling his own, in order to change it up a bit.

The Friendship of Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel. The Essence of Dali, © Philippe Halsman/Magnum Photos - Fundación Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2016. Chanel.
The Friendship of Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel: The Essence of Dali. Philippe Halsman/Magnum Photos, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres. Chanel.

"Chanel's originality was the opposite of mine... I have always shamelessly exhibited my thoughts, while she neither conceals hers nor shows them off, but instead dresses them up... She has the best-dressed body and soul on Earth."

- Salvador Dali for Coco Chanel, Chanel.

The friendship of Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel is one of the most iconic in the history of fashion and art.


Sources:

  • Salvador Dali, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, Dover Publications, 1993.
  • Lisa Chaney, Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life, Penguin Putnam Inc, 2012.
  • Chanel & The Artists Dali, Chanel news, 4.2.2026

You might be interested in some further reading:

https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/is-fashion-a-form-of-art/
https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/summer-with-salvador-dali/
https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/salvador-dali-weird-things/

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