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Schiaparelli: Avant-Garde Couture Inspires Post-Covid Fashion ‘Fantasy’

Though absent from Sunday’s Academy Awards, the rebooted Schiaparelli fashion house appears to have hit its stride recently.

Lady Gaga sang the National Anthem at President Joe Biden’s inauguration decked out in Schiaparelli Haute Couture, donning a voluminous scarlet gown with a large gold dove brooch pinned to her chest. Less than two months later, Beyoncé accepted her record-breaking 28th Grammy sporting a custom Schiaparelli leather mini dress with massive gold-and-black earrings and gloves bearing gilded nails.

Thom Browne protégé Daniel Roseberry—Schiaparelli’s creative director since April 2019—designed both ensembles. Aside from Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, the fashion house has clothed a gaggle of high-profile stars since Roseberry took the helm. Just in 2021, the list of stars donning Schiaparelli has included marquee celebrities from Tracee Ellis Ross, Gillian Anderson and Cate Blanchett to Anne Hathaway, Carey Mulligan and Kim Kardashian West.

Lady Gaga wore a Schiaparelli gown as she sang the National Anthem at the President Joe Biden's inauguration
Lady Gaga wore a Schiaparelli gown to President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Carolyn Kaster/AP Images

Su Ku, an assistant professor of fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, praised Roseberry’s performance so far. “He’s doing a phenomenal job in interpreting the…essence of Schiaparelli,” she said.

The original Schiaparelli

Elsa Schiaparelli founded her fashion house nearly a century ago in 1927, rising to prominence the following decade and growing to rival Coco Chanel. Known for merging surrealism and modernity, she collaborated with artists like Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau.

“She merged fashion and art in a very meaningful way,” Ku said. “[She] really understood what the surrealist movement was all about and she was able to channel that in her design. And she was, during her time, very avant-garde…. She really propelled fashion to another level and she merged fashion and art seamlessly.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art showcased 1930s evening jackets from the House of Schiaparelli and embellished skirts from Prada as part of the Costume Institute's 2012 Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibition
The Metropolitan Museum of Art showcased 1930s evening jackets from the House of Schiaparelli and embellished skirts from Prada as part of the Costume Institute’s 2012 Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibition. Fairchild Archive/Penske Media

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Her time in the sun, however, did not last particularly long. As the fashion world shifted to more traditional elegance after World War II, the whimsy that defined Schiaparelli’s designs fell out of style, Nancy Deihl, chair of the Department of Art and Art Professions at New York University, said. She closed her couture house in 1954.

Modern Schiaparelli

For more than 50 years, the Schiaparelli house lay dormant. Then, in 2006, Diego Della Valle, chairman of the Italian leather goods company Tod’s, bought the Maison Schiaparelli brand. Deihl placed the revival within a larger trend, begun in the ‘90s, that has seen early to mid-20th century fashion houses return decades later.

“They’re being capitalized on as having inherent value, but Schiaparelli is really the only one, to my knowledge, that has kind of made references back to the original kind of ethos or aesthetic of the brand,” Deihl added.

The rebooted Schiaparelli house has brought forward some of Elsa Schiaparelli's more iconic touches, such as her use of the color pink, as seen worn by actress Linda Cardellini at the 2019 Oscars.
The rebooted Schiaparelli house has brought forward some of Elsa Schiaparelli’s more iconic touches, such as her use of the color pink, seen here worn by actress Linda Cardellini at the 2019 Oscars.

Tonya Blazio-Licorish, archives content developer at Penske Media Corporation, the parent company to Sourcing Journal, also observed a similarity between the two iterations of the Schiaparelli brand, particularly between the women Elsa Schiaparelli worked with in her day and the celebrities wearing Schiaparelli today.

“I feel like Lady Gaga is almost like a Mae West of the moment,” Blazio-Licorish said. “Mae West was… this woman who was self-expressing…. They’re not the same, but it’s kind of like a similar kind of idea. And the women that [Roseberry’s] dressing are the same kind of women that… would have been connected to Elsa herself, these women who want to self-express.”

The evening gown worn by Kerry Washington at the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscar party was designed by Bertrand Guyon, the fashion house's creative director before Roseberry.
The evening gown worn by Kerry Washington at the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscar party was designed by Bertrand Guyon, Schiaparelli’s creative director before Daniel Roseberry.

Both Deihl and Ku noted the particular success of the brand’s most recent designs. The original relaunch—Roseberry marks the fashion house’s third creative leader since its resurrection— “didn’t really have anything distinguishing about it,” Deihl said. On the other hand, the current, more successful formula, she noted, does not just copy the past, but refers to the heyday through a modern reinterpretation.

“It feels like a skillful excavation of some themes, some details, some references to the original house that makes sense, without being just retrospective,” Deihl continued. “It feels relevant. Like the scale is different. The scale of the accessories, the scale of the silhouettes of the garment are a lot more adventurous than they would have been under Schiaparelli, but somehow the re-visitation feels right for now.”

While Deihl declined to nail down when exactly the new Schiaparelli house hit its stride, Ku highlighted Roseberry’s work in particular. “It’s like a magical collaboration between Roseberry and Schiaparelli’s legacy,” Ku said.

Actress Cynthia Erivo wore a couture gown by Schiaparelli to the 2020 Screen Actors Guild Awards
Actress Cynthia Erivo wore a couture gown by Schiaparelli to the 2020 Screen Actors Guild Awards. John Salangsang

“I think that he’s going to be one of the major players in the couture world,” Ku continued. “It’s because he understands the successful elements of Schiaparelli’s design in combining really impeccable tailoring with dramatic shapes and whimsical details.”

Meeting the moment

Blazio-Licorish noted the similarities between Schiaparelli’s belle epoque—the Great Depression into World War II—and today. “It’s kind of like we’re coming out of Covid and it feels like the same thing,” she said.

Noah Cyrus also wore Schiaparelli Couture to the Grammy Awards in March.
Noah Cyrus stepped out in Schiaparelli Couture at the Grammy Awards in March. Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP Images

Designers have some room to play artistically because they’re not making big collections, and they’re not having these super fantastical fashion shows with all the hoopla, and I think that that’s part of the influence,” Blazio-Licorish added.

While the pandemic appears to have accelerated casualization trends, particularly within the workplace, Deihl said she thinks people are “hungry for something new” when it comes to special occasions.

“Everybody wants to really climb out… do something fancy,” Deihl said. “I know people that are getting married and they don’t even know where they’re going to get married yet, but they’ve already picked out their clothes. I mean, this is where people’s minds are, so I think definitely in terms of providing a fantasy outlet, yes, I would say… that’s a good positioning for a brand.”