In yesterday's post we mentioned Elsa Schiaparelli, so, for today, let's take a step back to Paris Haute Couture Week when the fashion house's new collection was showcased.
Schiaparelli's A/W 2015 collection was the first one designed by Bertrand Guyon, named creative director in April after Marco Zanini left the house.
Zanini and, after him, the in-house design team that produced the most recent Schiaparelli couture collection (under the direction of Farida Khelfa, former model and director of Jean Paul Gaultier's couture salons, and Schiap brand ambassador) were actually praised by most critics even when they came up with designs entirely lifted from Schiap's own collections, or when they heavily borrowed from the '30s and the '40s, coming up with costumy rather than modern pieces.
Though not an obvious or an extremely well-known name, Guyon is an École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Carte graduate and high fashion is his background and strongest point as his long apprenticeship in this discipline proves.
He indeed worked as assistant at Valentino (Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli were among his supporters at the Schiaparelli catwalk show) where he spent 7 years. Before that he worked at Givenchy (with its founder, then with John Galliano and Alexander McQueen) and was Christian Lacroix's assistant for eleven years.
Guyon may not have known Schiap that well before getting appointed Creative Director of the newly revamped maison, but he studied pretty well her semantics in the last few months. Rather than merely copying from it, Guyon reworked bits and pieces of her glossary, trying to create a new and desirable vocabulary for modern couture clients.
The designer dubbed indeed the collection "Théâtre d’Elsa" to highlight maybe the mise en scène of all Elsa's tropes under a new direction (a theme that calls to mind Schiap's theatrical Commedia dell'Arte Collection, though one design - the first ensemble in this post - was named "Trois…Six…Neuf"’ after Michel Duran's 1936 play).
There were several inspirations behind the collection, some of them quite surprising: Guyon moved from Paris during the two world wars; the life of Schiap in London represented by a 1931 picture of the designer herself in a London street "scandalously" yet playfully wearing culottes (View this photo); and, believe it or not, Leigh Bowery.
It must be said that the latter was more a passing mood (maybe referenced in the thick tapestry-like brocades employed in this collection) than a tangible inspiration on the runway, as Guyon's hope was that of balancing simplicity and exuberance to remind us that Schiap didn't only design arty pieces, but was perfectly capable of producing wearable and functional garments.
A mid-calf hemline and wearable trouser suits prevailed, but extravagance was clear in the designs in sparkly brocades and in the embossed oversized coat characterised by a lacquered red shade.
Guyon's interest in Schiap's cosmopolitan life was clear in that mix of heavy tweeds and Surrealist embroidered motifs that went from Dali-esque brooches shaped like a telephone dial, an eye or a keyhole (the latter a reference to Schiap embroidering Saint Peter's keys on an evening suit in 1939) and handbags in the shape of a hand or a letter.
Some of the most intriguing pieces were actually the ones in which Guyon paid homage to Schiap's collaborators Christian Bérard and Marcel Vertes with prints or intarsia fur motifs inspired by their illustrations (animal lovers will hate the goat hair and fox jutting out of mink, but, fashion-wise, they were probably among the best pieces) while there were echoes of Wallis Simpson in a few sapphire blue gowns.
Guyon - who is definitely better versed in evening wear - must have developed a passion for decoration while working as Lacroix's assistant and he let it run wild in his stucco-like embroideries made with bullion, in the gilded sunburst decorations and star motifs (reinventions of Schiap's "Cosmique" A/W 1938-39 collection and shocking pink "Phoebus" cape, while the "Apollo of Versailles" cape was recreated in a new padded version), in the rhinestone straps that he used on the back of some of his evening gowns and in his three-dimensional appliqued flowers on organdy dresses.
The shocking pink flowing chiffon backless gown that closed the show was instead a palate cleanser, a sort of reaction to overembellishments with a sensual twist about it.
While hairstyles were borrowed from the '40s, the materials (velvet, brocade embroidered with caviar beads, mink and so on) were definitely taken from the Haute Couture school, but the shapes and some of the garments were quite modern (see the narrow tuxedo trousers and see-through biker jackets). Among the accessories, the tiaras spelling "Schiap" decorating the back of the models' heads were also an innovative touch.
As a whole the collection didn't reference so much the archive, but attempted to create a new language via clashes of colours such as shocking pink and mustard yellow, sheer pussy cat bow blouses and different textures unexpectedly combined together (see the mohair tartan with pink goat fur reworked in a spine-like braid, a sort of reinvention of the skeleton dress). The problem is that this new language is maybe not so new, but already pretty trendy as we have seen it on the Gucci runway.
One question remains: where is the house that Elsa built going? The chairman of Tod's Group Diego Della Valle bought the brand in 2006; Lacroix did a one-off collection (not intended for sale) for it in 2013; Zanini managed to get some of his designs on a few actresses on the red carpet, and now 21 Place Vendôme (where Schiap's house was once based) has a new tenant, yet the role and identity of the maison remain a mystery.
If these clothes are destined to be seen every now and then on celebrities on the red carpet or in photoshoots in glossy magazines, what is the maison going to sell? According to the plan, Guyon will design a high-end ready-to-wear collection as well. They call it "prêt-à-couture", but you wonder what's the point of it if ordinary people won't be able to afford it (and what's the point of creating high end ready-to-wear if some Haute Couture designers state they prefer "demi-couture", a sort of more wearable branch of high fashion?). Besides, there aren't any plans for products such as make up and fragrances that may act as cash cows for the house, so the future of this maison remains rather puzzling.
For the time being we do know that there were quite a few celebrities sitting in the front row including Meg Ryan, Game of Thrones star Carice van Houten and fashionista Daphne Guinness. Is this a good sign, something that shows the positive interest of some modern icons in this fashion house or is this a sign of the sort people money can buy? We will hopefully discover it in the next episode of the Schiap saga that is turning more and more into a classic "Modern Comedy" to use the name of a famous Schiap collection.
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