Born in Italy in 1890 into a family of bureaucrats and scholars, Elsa Schiaparelli fled Rome to avoid her family's pressure to marry a Russian aristocrat at age 23. The following year she would impulsively marry a spiritualist philosopher within days of their meeting, eventually moving to the United States where her only daughter "Gogo" was born in 1920. Schaiparelli divorced and returned to Europe, settling in Paris in 1922. On the crossing ocean voyage, Schiaparelli developed a friendship with Gabrielle Picabia, wife of the Dada painter Francis Picabia, which would lead to decades long friendships and collaborations with artists working in the Dada and surrealist movements, including Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau. At the encouragement of Paul Poiret, Schiaparelli began freelancing as a fashion designer and in 1927, she opened a small fashion atelier, initially focusing on knitwear. Within five years the house of Sciaparelli was a full-fledged couture house with more than 400 employees on the payroll. She was renowned for her unique brand of "hard chic" which also frequently incorporated witty and whimsical imagery. Her collections were often thematic, and she was well known for her prints, hand-embroidery and exquisite sequin work, both executed by Lesage. The house of Schiparelli remained open during the German occupation under the direction of Irene Dana, while Schiaparelli herself took refuge in the United States, volunteering as a nurse at Belleview Hospital in New York City. Anxious to return to France at the end of the war, news reports note that Schiaparelli was one of the first designers in exile to return to Paris, where she reassumed the directorship of her house, which remained open until December 1954. After this time, many products bearing the Schiaparelli label, such as sweaters and millinery continued to be produced under licensing agreements.