The Texan outsider is turning Parisian fashion upside down

Rarely is a fashion house better known for what it does today than it was a century ago. Dior, Chanel and Balenciaga are among the famous Parisian fashion brands to tap into their significant couture heritage to validate what they do now. Much less known, however, is Elsa Schiaparelli, who founded her house in 1927 and closed it in 1954 after running up heavy debts.

Dormant for 60 years, Schiaparelli was revived in 2012 amid excitement by Italian fashion magnate Diego Della Valle, chairman of the Tod’s Group. Fabulous guest designer Christian Lacroix was engaged to create the initial collection, which was presented at Schiaparelli’s lovingly restored headquarters at 21, Place Vendôme.

However, it wasn’t until American singer Lady Gaga appeared in a spectacular custom-designed outfit to sing at President Biden’s inauguration that the name Schiaparelli really entered anyone’s radar outside the world. of fashion. The designer of this dress was the Texan Daniel Roseberry, the thoughtful and discreet son of an Anglican minister who was appointed creative director of the house of Schiaparelli in April 2019.

Schiaparelli was a competitor to Gabrielle Chanel and one of the most revered fashion names of the first half of the 20th century. His pioneering collaborations included connections with surrealist artists such as Jean Cocteau, Man Ray and Salvador Dali. Her use of “shocking” pink and witty detailing, including the shoe hat, lobster dress, trompe d’oeil rip dress and dresser pocket detailing on the seam are examples of his irreverent design vocabulary. These relationships are explored in Shocking! The Surrealist World of Elsa Schiaparelli, an exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris which opened this summer and will run until January 22.

In just 25 years, Schiaparelli has made fashion a natural expression of the avant-garde. She embodied the vision of a bright and vibrant Paris, curious about everything and appreciating every novelty that presented itself to her. In November 1934, Harper’s Bazaar declared her “the most daring and original talent in the world of French couture… with a volcanic energy and an incredibly fertile sense of modern invention”.

When she died in 1973, Cristobal Balenciaga proclaimed her “the only true couture artist”. Yves Saint Laurent observes in the same way: “When she died, chic closed her eyes.”

Schiaparelli wasn’t just a seamstress, she was “a brand designer,” says Roseberry, sitting in the nearly bare white studio overlooking bustling Place Vendôme where he spent weekends during the pandemic sketching alone, in this which at the time looked like an abandoned town. He realizes, looking back, that it was a privilege and an incredibly inspiring moment to think about his legacy, almost as if the ghost of Schiaparelli was looking over his shoulder.

“His legacy is incredibly modern – the house is complicated because his work is specific and singular, but is still very relevant today,” Roseberry says, pointing out that multi-storey house raises don’t always work. Like Vionnet, he suggests, who created a methodology on how to cut a garment rather than a sustainable vision.

Roseberry believes that the exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs lays bare “Elsa’s contribution to fashion – she was the first person to cross fashion with pop culture, but with artists who were the pop culture of l ‘era”.

Beyonce wore a Roseberry design to the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards.  AP Photo

In a contemporary world, the creative dialogue between fashion and art has become almost commonplace, but Schiaparelli was the first to start this conversation. Perhaps because of her origins, she was drawn into the bohemian world of artists.

An aristocrat, she grew up in a baroque palace in Italy surrounded by Italian renaissance and classical antiquity and, intellectually, this was reflected in her collections. Her father was an academic specializing in the Islamic world and the Middle Ages, while her uncle was a renowned astronomer. Schiaparelli therefore felt much more at ease in the company of artists than in the Parisian “society” of his time.

She was an outsider, something Roseberry can understand coming to Paris as a little-known designer from Texas, who had spent 11 years working in New York at Thom Browne, a designer who himself enjoys playing with surreal concepts. “I can see there’s a freedom in being an outsider that gives you permission to play by the rules or not,” Roseberry says. “I think there’s something about that stranger’s perspective, where mastering something you weren’t raised with gives you a different perspective.”

A look from the fall/winter 2022 collection by Daniel Roseberry for Schiaparelli.  Photo: Schiaparelli

The house gave him the freedom to be himself, and while constantly bonding with Schiaparelli, “there are also things that are uniquely and personally mine,” Roseberry says.

He first launched into his crazy world with a molded seam and an assessment of how he would approach the figure, something that has been part of his creative process ever since he signed up for drawing lessons. of life at the age of 16. famous hourglass body of Schiaparelli’s signature perfume bottle for Shocking, with tape measure creating a trompe l’oeil detail that Roseberry has since replicated on jackets.

However, it was the eye-catching jewelry depicting parts of the anatomy that made people sit up and take notice. His gold body casts, he admits, caused a visceral reaction in the fashion world. Referencing the oversized gold jewelry of the 1930s, 1970s, and 1980s, they include molded ear, eye, tooth, and nose jewelry, gold toe on black shoes, and lung necklaces, which Bella Hadid wore with a scoop neck dress at the last Cannes Film Festival. year. These are the first surreal tropes that could live on in a modern setting – however, he’s aware that the joke can wear out, so expect something fresh and different in future seasons.

Lady Gaga wore Schiaparelli to sing at Joe Biden's inauguration.  PA

Overall, Roseberry has taken a very moderate approach to the extraordinary legacy left by Elsa Schiaparelli.

“It’s about carrying the heritage very lightly in the archives because they can become a heavy burden, I think. Visually, they’re so striking and so specific and it’s not even silhouette-driven, it’s even more specific than that,” says Roseberry.

He wants to elicit the same thrill by seeing something new that Schiaparelli has done in his time, without endlessly imitating his work. “I don’t think that’s what she would have wanted today.” The exhibition not only features Schiaparelli’s archives, but also the work of designers such as Azzedine Alaia and John Galliano, who were inspired by the couturier, and of course pieces from Roseberry’s collections, including Fall/Winter 2022 , which included the black velvet corset and pants with hand-painted flowers that Cate Blanchett wore to the Venice Film Festival last month, and Lady Gaga’s famous inauguration outfit.

Roseberry has only been at Schiaparelli for three years, but beyond Lady Gaga, he scored several memorable red carpet moments with stars including Adele, Cardi B, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan. Her personal favorite looks were Lady Gaga and Bella Hadid, as well as the skintight leather dress Beyonce wore the night she set the record for most Grammys won by a female singer.

“I’m so honored to be a part of this,” Roseberry muses, but also describes opening the exhibit, sharing a platform with the great Elsa Schiaparelli, as a “stunning moment that will be remembered forever.” It was a remarkable trajectory for the man from Texas.

Updated: October 13, 2022, 6:15 a.m.

About Timothy Cheatham

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