Even by the standards of the late 19th century, Elsa Schiaparelli had a miserable childhood, materially comfortable but emotionally deprived. At her christening her parents, who had been expecting a boy, didn’t have a name for her – put on the spot, they named her after her nurse. Her elder sister, Beatrice, was the beauty; believing herself ugly and unwanted, Elsa fantasised about being adopted. Later she would tell of trying to plant seeds in her ears, mouth and nose so that flowers would grow over her face and make it lovely.
One hated sign of her plainness was a scattering of moles on her left cheek. But when her adored uncle, an astronomer, told her that they formed the constellation Ursa Major – how lucky she was, he said, to have such a distinguishing mark – she was able to convert