After Lady Gaga shocked the world on Inauguration Day wearing an eye-catching avant-garde ensemble, voluminous red skirt, and a black fitted jacket with a golden dove brooch as a symbol of peace, Schiaparelli became the talk of the fashion world and beyond for this show-stopping look. With Gaga’s look delivering both a symbolic reference of reaching a point of peace in America while also looking dazzling resurged the house and its iconic use of campy surrealism into the current generation.
As the brand has been finding its resurgence in the fashion spotlight, its century-old glory cannot be erased. Schiaparelli is a sacred name, forever imprinted on the pages of fashion history. Elsa Schiaparelli, the founder of the house, was one of the most iconic figures in the history of costume who invented eternal classics, like a hard-shouldered suit, jumpsuits with pockets, and surrealist masterpieces that are now on display in museums. From a shoe-shaped hat and orangutan-fur boots, to newspaper print and signature “shocking pink,” Schiaparelli pioneered numerous iconic looks that dramatically influenced the history of fashion. A queen of surrealistic style, a friend of Salvador Dali, and Coco Chanel’s main rival – Elsa was many things. Despite her remarkable contribution to fashion, after World War II the conversation about the brand went silent for almost a century. Today, Maison Schiaparelli has been experiencing its second renaissance under the enthusiastic leadership of the new Creative Director, Daniel Roseberry. With its iconic historical moments and promising future, Schiaparelli’s fortified aesthetics are here to stay beyond the momentary trends.
Schiaparelli grew up an Italian aristocrat who was surrounded among the finest masterpieces of baroque art of the 18th century Corsini palace in Rome, had a deep understanding of beauty since she was a child. Her fashion journey started in 1922, when she moved to Paris. Earning a blessing from the prominent fashion designer at the time, Paul Poiret, Schiaparelli began rising in fashion. Her first collection, which featured hand-knit sweaters with a black and white trompe l’œil motif, quickly became a hit as the Parisian women craved sport-style amid the spirit of the Olympic Games in France.
What started with simple sweaters and a little “showroom” in Schiaparelli’s apartment, had grown into a chic boutique at Place Vendôme, right in front of Chanel’s residence at the Ritz Hotel. Schiaparelli and Chanel had then become rivals, periodically “stealing” each other’s clients. In contrast to Chanel, whose classic designs featured black and white, Schiaparelli pioneered color in all its extravagance – Schiaparelli “invented” the iconic fuchsia or what she called “shocking pink.” Fashion historians say that Chanel, in the end, might have been influenced by Schiaparelli’s use of color, making her late creations less dark to accommodate her clients’ desires.
Schiaparelli loved “shocking” the crowd – both on the runway and in her social outings. She showed up at parties in ostrich feathers and now-banned orangutan fur coats. She famously designed the iconic multilayer dress that resembled a private part of a woman’s body – the item was deemed shocking and provocative by society. Elsa was as “hip” as she could be for the conservative 1930s. Ignoring the disapproving looks, she followed her own artistic vision, reining her designs with surrealist sexuality. The bizarre hats, manicured gloves, a bra with hands – those are just a few iconic items that Schiaparelli had forever imprinted in fashion history.
Some of the most marvelous creations had also resulted from Elsa’s friendship with the famed surrealist artist, Salvador Dali. Some of those iconic masterpieces featured the famous skeleton dress that imitated a shape of a human skeleton on the back – an allusion to the popular image of a stoop-shouldered woman popularized by Greta Garbo, as well as the famous lobster dress and a shoe hat. Schiaparelli was also the first designer to dedicate a collection to certain themes, like “Circus,” “Zodiac,” and “Pagan.”
Even though it was Gianni Versace who became the most famous for hiring “supermodels” for his runway shows and ultimately making it the driving marketing strategy of his brand, Elsa Schiaparelli was probably among the first couturiers in the scene who started practicing it. The “supermodels” that walked her runway shows were blue-blood Russian emigres that settled in France after fleeing the revolution. Lyud Fedoseeva, for example, was a favorite model of both Chanel and Schiaparelli and had also become an object of fight between the two women, with one trying to outpay the other to have the model for the show.
Many famous clients also contributed to the brand’s success, becoming what we would now call “brand ambassadors.” Wallis Simpson, the future Duchess of Windsor had worn the iconic lobster dress by Dali and Schiaparelli on her pre-wedding shoot for Vogue. The famous Hollywood actress Mae West shined in Schiaparelli look in Every Day’s Holiday film. Her hourglass figure had become a prototype for the iconic “Shocking” perfume design, that resembled her curves. The risque ad became another shockwave that hit the traditional crowd in 1937. Decades later it was famously recreated by Jean Paul Gaultier in his own perfume collection.
The burning flame of Schiaparelli’s success was, unfortunately, dimmed as World War II had hit Europe and faded away completely in the post-war time. When Elsa returned back to liberated France, she saw that the fashion scene had changed. There were new faces, like Balmain and Balenciaga who intrigued the public with new silhouettes. There was Christian Dior with his iconic “New Look.” Schiaparelli could not regain her spot at the fashion Olympus and Maison Schiaparelli closed its doors in 1958 – only to be reopened 60 years later.
Almost a century later, Maison Schiaparelli has entered a brand new era on the back of Roseberry, who joined the house in 2019. Even though the house was officially reopened in 2012, incarnated in Elsa’s actual boutique in Place Vendôme, it wasn’t until Roseberry’s appointment breathed new life into the brand. Thanks to the comeback of camp, the style characterized by excess and exaggeration, Schiaparelli’s signature surrealism fits in perfectly in the contemporary cultural landscape.
“It is my great honor and my joy to pick up where Mme. Schiaparelli left off some 85 years ago. Schiaparelli was a master of the modern; her work reflected the chaos and hope of the turbulent era in which she lived,” Roseberry said in a statement upon his appointment.
Drawn to fashion from early Texan childhood, his path to creative and personal freedom distantly echos the house’s past. Like Schiaparelli , who escaped the confines of her Roman palace to marry a young theosophist and write risque poetry in Britain, Roseberry’s path to personal and creative self-expression was similarly unorthodox to his traditional background. Ever since he started drawing design sketches of a bride’s dress after visiting a wedding at the age of twelve, his obsession with fashion only grew stronger and led him to where he is now.
Debuting fashion week, Roseberry made it clear he did not want to be “nostalgic,” but offer the interpretation of the surrealism through the prism of his own vision. In his first collection, he had stormed the runway with the color, campy accessories and the surrealist sexuality that everyone had waited for. He masterfully expressed the aura that was deeply embedded in the brand’s DNA and placed it in the context of today, rather than the past.
“Today, we find ourselves asking similarly big, identity-shaping questions of our own: What does art look like? What is identity? How do we dress for the end of the world? Schiaparelli answered these questions with candor and humor, but one of her greatest legacies may be her commitment to fantasy, her understanding that we need fantasy in complicated times,” Roseberry said. “I want to offer my own answers to these questions, and offer a fantasy—a dream—that feels relevant, and necessary, for today.”
While Roseberry is driven by the strong desire to create his own legacy, he often pays tribute to Schiaparelli’s iconic masterpieces. The Fall/Winter 2020 collection, he featured a military jacket with golden chains imitating the ribs, and a skeleton-style leather bomber – a beautiful tribute to the iconic skeleton dress from the Dali-era of the brand. The same collection also presented a series of manicured gloves encrusted with Swarovski crystals. Signature “shocking pink” also continues to live on in the Spring/Summer 2021 coat and suit, decorated with surrealist buttons.
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While some items feel like a direct quote, others offer refreshing novelty, as if reminding us of Roseberry’s own artistic brush stroke. Instead of the insect necklace from the 1938 “Pagan” collection that was sold for € 85,000 on Sotheby’s auction, in 2021 we see the continuation of fantastical surrealism in the golden necklace with tooth-shaped pearls.
Similarly, the manicured gloves transform into gold finger rings, that have recently gained popularity in social media. If Salvador Dali is looking at us from the above, he will surely approve (perhaps, with a wink.)
While we are left in awe with Roseberry’s creative genius and the triumphant return of surrealism in the fashion scene, the brand has also picked up on the power of social media and celebrities’ support to push the brand’s popularity forward. At the end of the day, you may create a masterpiece, but that all will be in vain if the house continues its existence in silence. Despite the pandemic, 2020 was fruitful for Schiaparelli in terms of notable encouragement from celebrities. Beyoncé and Cate Blanchett made public appearances in Schiaparelli looks in the beginning of the year. Kim Kardashian broke Instagram over Christmas, with a picture of her wearing molded six pack leather corset from the Spring/Summer 2021 Haute Couture collection. The item carries the message that Roseberry connoted in the new collection – the concept of “power femininity.” Going against what he sees as “misogynistic” femininity displayed in classical Haute Couture, Roseberry presents his own unique vision to challenge that.
While it might be difficult to carry the weight of Schiaparelli’s legendary legacy, Roseberry is confidently driving the brand into a prosperous future. They say it’s impossible to invent something new, when nearly everything has already been invented – yet, collection after collection, we see Schiaparelli bringing us to the new fantasy worlds, answering to our own artistic hunger with eye-pleasing extravaganza.