Thursday 22 October 2020

Paris Special Report: Schiaparelli's Art of Fashion

Schiaparelli's artistic director Daniel Roseberry photographed his new spring/summer 2021 collection in Paris. The gold glasses and bag embellished with eyes, nose and mouth capture the Surrealist sensibility of the fashion house. See short film below. 

Elsa Schiaparelli, Roman aristocrat and iconoclast, was one of the most
 revolutionary fashion designers of the 20th century. Daniel Roseberry, appointed artistic director of Maison Schiaparelli last year, is the first American to head a Parisian couture house and he has brought a new ethos and dynamism to the storied label. Special report by Jeanne-Marie Cilento 

Gilded nose earrings
and gold fingertips
give Schiaparelli 
a modern Dadaist sensibility. 
AN innovator and iconoclast from the very start of her career as a designer, Elsa Schiaparelli opened her fashion house in Paris in 1927. She may have grown up in a family of Italian aristocrats and intellectuals, amid the luxury of the Corsini Palace in Rome, but she was dynamic and worked hard, presenting four new collections a year that melded art and fashion.

Not only was she the mother of modern sportswear, she designed the first women's power suit, one-piece bathers and experimented exhaustively with new silhouettes, textiles and jewellery. 

There were also raincoats in rubberised wool and silk, jumpsuits with visible, colourful zips, wrap evening dresses, culottes (shocking at the time), reversible gowns and a collection of Surrealist hats (the origin of the term "mad cap"). 

Research into the development of new materials led to revolutionary fabrics such as the glassy, transparent rhodophane, a type of plastic she used for overcoats, and rayon crepe that was like a crinkled, permanent pleat. Hand-knit jumpers with trompe l’oeil motifs depicting bows were immediately in demand, particularly in the United States. 

Schiaparelli's fashion house had become so successful that by1929 she had established ateliers, salons and offices at 4, Rue de la Paix in Paris. Her first collections included swimsuits, beach pyjamas and knitwear in strong contrasting colours with motifs that became well-known, including tortoises, skeletons and sailor tattoos. Her mix of sportswear with the fine workmanship of couture was so innovative that her first licensing agreements were offered by American textile manufacturers. 

Schiaparelli invented modern sportswear and designed the first women's power suit

 Daniel Roseberry
has created a new version 
of Schiaparelli's coat-shirt.
Ahead of her time, Schiaparelli was inspired by men's fashion and created the first coat-shirt in 1935. She was also one of the original designers to create collections around themes for her runway shows. They were a mix of art and pragmatism and she explored ideas relating to many different fields from the circus to astrology. 

She mixed with some of the most avant-garde artists of the day including Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau. She used their drawings to create patterns and designs for new gowns and even a compact perfume like a phone dial. 

Cocteau created a drawing he gave to Elsa Schiaparelli that was an optical illusion, two faces in profile that also looked like a vase of pink roses. This inspired the designer to create a blue silk jersey coat. with the sketch embroidered by Lesage on the back, that was part of her Autumn 1937 Haute Couture collection. 

The painter Jean Dunand also created trompe-l’œil pleats on long gowns and sculptor Alberto Giacometti designed jewellery for her. Giacometti created brooches, bracelets and buttons representing mythological, feminine or animal characters. Brooches in the shape of an eye, decorated with a pearl in the form of a tear, were designed by Cocteau for Schiaparelli. During the 1930s she also collaborated with Dali on suits with pockets that looked like drawers, a shoe-shaped hat, the famous lobster-print and skeleton dresses and the Le Roy soleil perfume bottle. Jean Cocteau's drawings continued to feature on coats, evening dresses and Schiaparelli bijoux. 

The designer collaborated with some of the most avant-garde artists of her day including Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau

Gold glasses with blue 
enamel eyes are 
Roseberry's nod to
Surrealist aesthetic.
Other surrealist pieces included leather ankle boots with toes outlined in red stitching, a men’s fragrance bottle in the shape of Magritte's pipe, gloves with red python nails, necklaces encrusted with insects, and handbags with battery-powered decorations. The press articles celebrating Schiaparelli were used to create a newspaper printed fabric that has been copied many times since.  

By 1932, Schiaparelli had eight ateliers with 400 employees in Paris, producing sportswear plus day and evening wear. The following year, the designer opened a store and salons in London and an office in New York. 

The business was expanding so quickly Schiaparelli took over the Hotel de Fontpertuis, at 21 place Vendôme in Paris. It had five floors and housed Schiaparelli's now 700 strong staff. The ground-floor boutique had a wonderful view across to the Vendôme column. 

Her international success grew rapidly and only seven years after she first opened her Paris atelier, she was featured as the first female fashion designer on the cover of Time, the American magazine, in 1934. 

She had also gathered a famous clientele around the world, including Wallis Simpson (Schiaparelli created the trousseau for the future Duchess of Windsor) actresses such as Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo and Lauren Bacall and French aristocrats like Marie-Laure de Noailles plus film costumes for Mae West. 

Schiaparelli launched her first fragrance “S” in 1928 and then released Soucis, Salut and Schiap. By 1937, Schiaparelli had created her famous perfume Shocking which was a great success with its bottle designed by Léonor Fini, shaped like a mannequin with porcelain flowers and a velvet measuring tape. Schiaparelli also created her signature colour Shocking Pink, one she used as a leitmotif throughout her work. 

Seven years after Schiaparelli opened her Paris atelier, she was the first female fashion designer on the cover of Time magazine

Subversive art was integral
to Elsa Schiaparelli's 
As the Second World War began in 1939, Schiaparelli tried to keep the fashion house going and maintain as many jobs as possible. She started to design more practical clothing suited to wartime life and impending air raids, including jumpsuits with zippers and big pockets, coats with built-in bags and dresses that could be transformed from day to evening wear. 

However, by July 1940, Elsa Schiaparelli had left Paris to give a series of lectures in the United States about clothes and women. It was a successful tour: 36,000 people turned up at one event. She was given the Neiman Marcus Award and was the first European to receive it. 

New York's Museum of Modern Art offered to appoint her as director of its fashion design department, but despite the war raging in Europe, she decided to return to Paris. 

She discovered when she came back, however, that her status as an Italian in France had become dangerous and she left her business to be managed without her from May 1941 to July 1945. Schiaparelli based herself in New York but continued to help France through a wide variety of initiatives. 

When she returned to Paris after the war, Schiaparelli concentrated on selling licenses to the United States, including one for sunglasses in 1952, the first time a designer had done this. Although there were good sales of perfumes, Elsa Schiaparelli felt the world of haute couture had changed. By 1954, following the austerities of World War II, the designer closed both the haute couture and pret-a-porter labels and devoted herself to writing her autobiography Shocking Life. 

It wasn't until Italian businessman, Diego Della Valle, chairman of luxury goods group Tod’s, acquired Schiaparelli in 2006 that the house was reborn. Della Valle even waited another six years for the lease at the designer’s original atelier in central Paris to be free again. By 2012, the couture house had reopened at the Hôtel de Fontpertuis, Place Vendôme, at the very place where Elsa had left it nearly 70 years earlier. 

New York's Museum of Modern Art offered to appoint Schiaparelli as the director of its fashion design department,

Manet and Degas'  figurative
drawings were the inspiration 
for the pattern of this long coat.
Two years later, in 2014, the first Schiaparelli couture runway show since 1954, was presented during Paris Haute Couture week. By 2017, Maison Schiaparelli was awarded the official Haute Couture label by the French Ministry of Industry and the French Couture Federation. 

American designer Daniel Roseberry is the third artistic director to head Schiaparelli since it was relaunched. He says he is inspired by the history of the fashion house, founded on inventiveness and ideas rather than just making beautiful clothes. When he took the reins of Schiaparelli in April 2019, he said it was an "honor and joy to pick up where Madame Schiaparelli left off.” 

He loves the idea of exploring the nature of fashion today, as Elsa Schiaparelli had done in her own era, and believes the Surrealist sensibility is particularly suited to the Covid-19 era we are living through now. 

However, he is working at time that is very different to Elsa Schiaparelli. She established her fashion house between two world wars when the role of women in society was rapidly changing and there were avant-garde art movements that were questioning the way people viewed the world and breaking many of the past century's artistic conventions. Schiaparelli's work addressed the societal changes and integrated the new art around her into her work. 

Today, Daniel Roseberry believes the ethos of Schiaparelli is still about the marriage of art and fashion. Yet he has had to study and ponder the history of Schiaparelli's innovation and creativity and make it part of his own vision. So far in his 18 months at Maison Schiaparelli, he has created both wearable and artistic collections and played with the Surrealist tropes that are so much part of the fashion house's history. Roseberry uses Schiaparelli motifs in different ways for the clothes, accessories and jewellery to link back to the house's origins while creating something new and of its time. 

Today, Daniel Roseberry believes the ethos of Schiaparelli is still about the marriage of art and fashion 

Daniel Robesberry 
photographs model 
Maggie Maurer 
for the SS21 collection.
Will Daniel Roseberry have Elsa Schiaparelli's talent for effecting real world changes in the way women dress or think about fashion? Perhaps it is an impossible task now, in an age inundated by such a plurality of fashion images. 

The original anarchic nature of the Surrealists no longer has any shock value and seems merely fun and zany out of its context and time. Yet Roseberry is keen to experiment not only with the house's well-known emblems but also to bring a radical new sense of design to Schiaparelli.  

The designer worked for a decade at the creative American fashion label Thom Browne in New York, as the head of the men's and women's collections. The unconventional and innovative designs at Thom Browne were probably a good preparation for leading Schiaparelli. Roseberry certainly appears to relate to the sense of fantasy at both fashion brands.

For his new ready-to-wear collection for spring/summer 2021, Roseberry photographed all of the designs himself. Along with most of the other designers on the official schedule at this season's Paris Fashion Week, he did not present a live runway show due to the difficulties of Covid-19 restrictions. Instead, he shot the look book and presented a short film about the collection.

It was not only his first experience shooting a fashion collection but the first time he had ever picked up a camera. He photographed two models around Paris, Maggie Maurer and Rouguy Faye, and at the café La Palette and the Place Vendôme atelier of Schiaparelli. Called Elements of Desire, the new collection combines fluid and stylish designs with some eye-popping Surrealist gems, that draw on the Schiaparelli aesthetic. 

Roseberry is keen to experiment not only with the house's emblems but also to bring his own vision of design to Schiaparelli  

A mould of Maggie Maurer's
face was taken to create
this gilded face piece.
"For this, Schiaparelli's third ready-to-wear collection, I wanted to create something essential. Not basic, with all that word implies, but something elemental: a few key, carefully chosen pieces that express the tenets of our house, that a woman could wear today but also decades into the future,"  explains Roseberry. 

"The shapes are also a canvas for our new, extensive vocabulary of accessories, including an oversized series of Zodiac necklaces, surrealist-inflected finger and toe jewellery, and exaggerated earrings and face pieces that recall some of Elsa Schiaparelli's favorite icons: the padlock, the lobster, and the elephant head."

The face piece is a gilded mould of Maggie Maurer's face and wraps around her jaw and nose like an image from one of Dali's otherworldly, dream-like paintings. Decorative "glasses" are also in gold but have vivid blue enamel eyes creating a distinctly Dadaist upending of normality. 

A pearl necklace is strung with ceramic molar teeth, gilded fingertips look like extraordinarily realistic talons, earrings are in the form of tropical flowers, an eye has crystal tears, a long, gold chain suspends a pleat on a black evening gown, necklaces feature hefty zodiac signs and buttons in the form of nipples adorn tops, dresses and coats. The designs are all striking and compliment the graphic clothes. 

Roseberry has allowed his sense of whimsy to run free with these bijoux and accessory designs and connect back to Schiaparelli as a vanguard of new ideas. The designer has been enthralled by gems since he was child. In this collection he has been able to cast necklaces, earrings, belt buckles and glasses as new emblems of the fashion house while still honoring the Schiaparelli sensibility.  

"I wanted to create something essential, elemental: key pieces that a woman could wear today but also decades into the future"

The new nappa leather
handbags with pleated 
designs & gilded hardware.
New accessories also include Nappa leather handbags with strong silhouettes and pleated details, embellished with padlocks and gold eyes, noses and lips. "Complementing the jewellery is a new and extended line of bags, including updates of our signature Secret and Sun bags," describes Roseberry. 

"As well as two new groups: the first incorporates Schiaparelli's iconic measuring tape motif ~ first seen in the house's 1937 Shocking perfume bottle ~ in a series of totes and pouches. The second is a line of box bags in smooth tobacco-colored Nappa, adorned with surrealist bijoux elements: eyes, noses, and lips."

The clothes in the collection are dramatic but also stylish and functional. A one-shouldered, dark blue dress has a wonderfully puffed sleeve that is a terrific foil to the slim, shape that hugs the body. A fluid pantsuit is enlivened by its vivid colour in Elsa Schiaparelli's shocking pink with a lively print based on female figures by Degas and Manet. 

"I don't need to remind anyone that the past half-year has blurred our collective definition of seasonality. It's also, I believe, made us appreciate all the more the things that endure, that are made with care and time ~ which is, of course, what couture is all about.

"I wanted to bring that same level of care, of detail, and of time to this collection to create the most luxurious (yet effortless) ready-to-wear looks around: the patterns are all hand-drawn, and the embellishments, from buttons to clasps, are all distinctive and considered. 

"I believe this past six months has made us appreciate the things that endure, that are made with care and time"

Shocking pink was 
Elsa Schiaparelli's 
signature hue..
"One thing I particularly love about designing couture is how tactile the process is ~ I wanted to bring that same hands-on sensibility to ready-to-wear as well. I feel so fortunate to have been able to conceive of this collection holistically, from drawing the initial sketches to shooting the images in the lookbook." 

A black, voluminous minidress has wide ruffles and a plunging neckline that is both flattering and comfortable to wear. The collection also has details that will thrill Schiaparelli fans like the Surrealist faces created in broderie anglaise and white shirts with hand-painted breasts. Silk crepe jackets are fastened with Schiaparelli's signature padlock and long, beautifully-cut navy coats have gold nipple brooches that Roseberry has added for a frisson of drama. 

"I concentrated on essential silhouettes in the best fabrics ~ the perfect wide-legged pants in tropical-weight cool wool; a trench coat in a tissue-thin black suede; a slinky, easy evening dress in a high twist wool crepe; playful intarsia twinsets in drapey rayon," Roseberry says. 

"Although these pieces were made with seriousness by me and my team, they themselves are light-hearted, meant to convey a joie de vivre for all who wear them as well as all who see them. This moment we're all sharing will end. But these clothes will last. I hope the Schiaparelli woman who wears them finds as much delight in them as I did in their creation."

Short film in Paris showing Daniel Roseberry creating the new Schiaparelli SS21 Collection

Highlights of the Spring/Summer 2021 Collection shot in Paris

Subscribe to support our independent and original journalism, photography, artwork and film.