Rebirth

04.17.13

A New Direction For Schiaparelli

Christian Lacroix will design a 15-piece couture collection for the legendary house of Schiaparelli in July. Alice Cavanagh on what it means for the resurrection of the brand.

The legendary couturier Christian Lacroix will design a capsule haute couture collection of just 15 pieces for the soon-to-be-relaunched house of Schiaparelli, to be presented during couture week in Paris this July.

Italian businessman Diego Della Valle (the owner of Tod’s and Roger Vivier) has been on the hunt for a Creative Director for the house since he announced the relaunch of Schiaparelli last May, appointing ex-model and muse Farida Khelfa as a spokesperson not long afterwards (presumably in the hope that she would whet everyone’s appetites in the interim.)

In a statement released earlier today, titled “A love declaration to Elsa: Monsieur Christian Lacroix pays tribute to Schiaparelli,”  Lacroix commented: “In this persona incarnating a true aristocrat, one finds a spirit where mathematics and literature as well as poetry coexist: Elsa is a sacred sphinge [sphinx] who never ceases to interrogate us while offering us new enigmas as answers. Art, theater and cinema… my wish is to reposition Elsa at the center of her maison and on the stage from which she once seduced the world.”

The house of Schiaparelli closed for business in 1954. It’s namesake, Elsa Schiaparelli,  became famous for her modern, surrealist take on fashion, she counted Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dalí as close friends and collaborators and brought a sense of irreverence to the Parisian haute couture scene of the 1930s. She featured a newspaper print in one of her collections (like John Galliano did decades later) and -- during the era of Prohibition – created a dress with a concealed hip pocket designed for hiding a flask.

Last year, the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute choose to honor Schiaparelli’s legacy and feature her designs those of alongside Miuccia Prada in an exhibition called Impossible Conversations, offering a visual discourse between two of the most formidable women in fashion history.

Much like Schiaparelli, Lacroix is first and foremost an artist -- one who has always doggedly pursued the truly avant-garde spirit of haute couture. He debuted his own line in 1987, with the backing of Bernard Arnault of LVMH, and despite being celebrated by the industry -- not to mention the Supers of the 90s and Edina Monsoon from Ab Fab -- the brand was destined for financial failure.

Lacroix’s July show for Schiaparelli will be one master’s chance to pay homage to another.

Sadly, Lacroix’s supremely artistic vision prevented him from progressing beyond his elaborate designs and theatrical presentations, despite licensing deals and the introduction of a perfume. Eventually, the company declared bankruptcy in 2008 (at which stage it was owned by the Falic group) and at the time the French Minister of Culture described the demise of Christian Lacroix as a “cultural disaster.”

But Lacroix remains beloved by the industry -- and the Schiaparelli presentation in July will be an opportunity for him to once again showcase what he does best. It will also be, perhaps, a happier swansong than the final (and very emotional) couture presentation he showed in 2008. It will be one master’s chance to pay homage to another. 

At this juncture, Lacroix’s involvement with the maison appears to be a one-off collaboration, perhaps to buy Della Valle more time to find the right Creative Director in time for the Spring 2014 collections in October, or perhaps part of a larger plan to install rotating collaborators rather than a single face. As Suzy Menkes writes in The New  York Times, “The executive’s idea of using a variety of designers rather than one “name” is part of a general view today that it is the brand, not the person who interprets it, that is king.”

Yesterday, rumors surfaced that Marco Zanini, the Italian designer currently heading up Rochas, was a potential candidate for the role of artistic director. Zanini began his career as a design assistant at Dolce & Gabbana, after which he went on to work with Donatella Versace. In 2007, he was briefly appointed the Creative Director of Halston for the American brand’s somewhat disappointing renaissance. He produced just one season for Halston, and, though his debut collection received mixed reviews, it did have commercial success — one of the dresses he designed reportedly sold out on Net-A-Porter in 45 minutes. In 2009, he took over from Olivier Theyskens at Rochas.