The House of Schiaparelli Asks: How do we dress for the end of the world?

February 25, 2022

Graphic by Mary Nguyen

Just like Saturn rings, fashion orbits in cycles.

Stunning, sharp, and surreal — the Schiaparelli runway show was a defining moment this fashion season. After 12 months of digital shows, the House of Schiaparelli returned with a breathtaking in-person collection. Set in Paris’s historic Petit Palais art museum, the show was the epitome of elegance, exuberance, and sophistication.

Schiaparelli’s collection was exclusively black, white, and gold. The black and white color provided consistency and class to the designs. Meanwhile, the dazzling gold was always thick, metallic, and sharp, looking cold to the touch, providing a dramatic contrast to the simple monochrome colors. The models looked like fierce modern-day goddesses, the kind you imagine when reading a Madeline Miller novel.

Images via Vogue Runway and Schiaparelli

The theme for Daniel Roseberry — Schiaparelli’s current creative director —  was space, particularly Saturn. Known for its bright, beautiful, dust rings, the second-largest planet in the solar system was represented physically in the collection in the form of a gold mini-Saturn-shaped bag. Some of the models also had gold circular rings which extended outside of couture to allude to the planet.

Saturn was the Roman God of time, and Roseberry chose to borrow designs from the past, highlighting how fashion can become timeless. Roseberry referenced Elisa Shiaparelli’s Fall 1938 Zodiac collection and took a spin on Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Fall 1984 Barbès collection. Just like Saturn’s rings, fashion orbits in cycles.

Images via Vogue Runway and Schiaparelli

The theme of fantasy in the Schiaparelli brand dates back to the brand's founder, Elsa Schiaparelli. Schiaparelli was an Italian-born designer who was Coco Chanel’s biggest rival in the ‘30s. This rivalry was deep, and Bettina Ballard, former American Vogue EIC, wrote that Chanel set Shiaperelli’s dress on fire at a huge custom ball.

Chanel represented the slick and neutral woman. Schiaparelli, on the other hand, was more experimental, partnering with many surrealist artists like Jean Coteau and Salvador Dali to create a world of illusions. Schiaparelli was the first designer to have specific themes for her shows. The most remembered were her Circus, Zodiac, and Pagan collection in 1938.

The Circus collection contained many themes, including performing elephants, horses, and tents. The Zodiac collection used highly embellished and opulent designs inspired by astrological signs and the palace of Versailles under Louis XV. Not Louis XVI, that would be controversial! The Pagan collection was inspired by Botticelli's Renaissance painting with themes of flowers and foliage. Schiaparelli’s intertextual art and historical references reflect how the past shapes art in the present.

During the second world war, Schiaparelli’s success began to dwindle. When the war was over, fashion had changed drastically. Brands such as Balmain and Balenciaga were on the rise with new and radical silhouettes, and then Christian Dior’s New Look emerged in 1947, which transformed the desired look of women’s clothing. The New Look was rounded shoulders with a tight waist and a very full skirt; the hourglass figure was in. Women wanted to dress gracefully and elegantly, celebrating the end of the war and the lack of trade shortages. During this time, the Schiaparelli fashion house closed its doors, and it took 60 years to reopen.

In theory, the house opened in 2012, but it wasn’t until Roseberry’s appointment in 2019 that the brand was fully re-established and took on a new way of looking at surrealism. The rise and fall of Schiaparelli reflect how dynamic fashion is. Fashion houses can be reborn and regenerated at any time.

Images via Vogue Runway and Schiaparelli

In his bio on Schiaparelli’s website, Roseberry said it best: “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.”

Indeed, in a time of uncertainty, Roseberry offers us an escape by transporting us into Saturn, space, and the stars. ■

Graphic by Mary Nguyen

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