Schiaparelli: Into the Future

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Words by Lisbeth Løvbak Berg

Continuing the tradition started by Karl Lagerfeld when he was president of the jury two years ago, the talk with Bertrand Guyon, creative director of Schiaparelli, was one of the highlights of the festival. Through the talk, we got an insight into the history of the house of Schiaparelli, which differs from most houses in that the couture activity was discontinued for many years.

As a matter of fact, Elsa Schiaparelli founded her business in 1927, which grew and became very popular, starting out with knitwear, going on to sportswear, and eventually couture – at one point she was selling more perfume than Chanel – but she chose to close the couture part of the business in 1954. It did not start again until 2012, when the house relaunched, creating a first, non-commercialised collection. However, the house never closed completely, and at Schiaparelli’s death in 1973, it was taken over and it remains one of the few fashion houses that are privately owned and it’s still situated in the same building, at place Vendôme, in Paris.

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As another part of Hyères tradition, the work of the president of the jury was presented in the form of an exhibition. When curating the exhibition, Guyon wanted to show that haute couture is something “real and possible” (fr.: “réel et possible”), not only dresses made with 300 metres of fabric destined for the red carpet. And indeed, the exhibition is based around exquisitely tailored jackets, showing also a few toiles, that were almost as finished as the garments themselves, and only one evening dress.

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The works displayed were from the collections Guyon have designed for Schiaparelli and gives an insight into his work with rebuilding the brand over the last two years. As opposed to other brands, like Valentino, where Guyon worked previously, Schiaparelli does not possess a textile archive, and a very limited document archive containing mostly magazine clippings. This lack of archive made the work with reconstituting the brand image all the more complicated. As he explained, you can as a newly arriving designer either continue the style or start everything over. For him the question has been to find the balance between the old pieces and his own vision.

The exhibited pieces nonetheless, clearly show a revival of signature symbols and surrealist imagery that Schiaparelli is most known for, despite Guyon’s insistence that her work is so much more than this, even very minimalist at times. This is a side to her work that the public knows little about and that Guyon could potentially introduce us to. As he explained, her work has been copied so many times that at this point in time a lot of her signature pieces would be accused of being copies. Therefor what he can of that imagery is limited.

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During the talk, Guyon was asked if he envisioned collaborating with artists, like Schiaparelli is so well known to have done, his answer being that he did not want to force this. Schiaparelli had collaborated with surrealist artist that were her friends and so it happened naturally and that he is against forced collaboration based on marketing and economical concerns. His concerns are about manifesting craftsmanship and beauty and taking care of the tradition of this Italian-owned French haute-couture house.

The question for the future of the label is then who is the Schiaparelli-woman? Who is Guyon designing for? Will they revel in the feminist image of the original creator, of liberating the female body etc.? Will the surrealist touch stay or will the image evolve in Guyon’s vision?  It is too early to say, given the short time since the house re-opened, but it will be a pleasure to follow the development over the next season.

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Photo credits: Lucy Staartjes, 2017

Lisbeth Løvbak Berg, 2017

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