A chorus of birds excitedly chirped the revival of Elsa Schiaparelli at Paris' Les Arts Décoratifs last night. But in a gesture that would have been appreciated by the iconic designer, who died nearly 40 years ago, the birds turned out to be a digital trompe l'oeil, a series of flat-screen images suspended within a canopy of flowers.
One year after the house of Schiaparelli reopened the doors of the designer's former apartment at 21 Place Vendôme, it finally unveiled the first collection, under the direction of Christian Lacroix.
Of the 99 sketches Lacroix dreamed up, only 18 became physical pieces. Yet the compact collection was produced with the same level of detail as haute couture. A pink and black striped duchesse satin gown required 40 metres of material and took 380 hours to complete. One beaded cape weighs 20 kilos, while a skirt was reportedly double that. No wonder the clothes weren't on models. Fifteen of the looks were mounted on a mirrored carrousel that took four minutes to make a full rotation; the remaining three occupied an annex where sketches lined the walls.
Nothing, alas, will be recreated to sell. Farida Khelfa, who bears the title of brand muse, said she is unsure whether even she will be able to wear the one-off designs - primarily because the mannequins are extra petite (though the midnight-blue coat with exaggerated pockets extending from the waist would be her first pick). Beginning next year, there will be two yearly couture collections and two prêt-à-couture collections, divided between a creative director and a guest design contributor, perhaps from the world of art or music.
If the collection was not as boundary-pushing as one might have expected Schiaparelli to be in the 21st century, it undoubtedly confirmed Lacroix as a kindred spirit. While he made sure to sprinkle the pieces with Schiap essentials - beetle bijoux, a jewel-encrusted lobster pochette, harem-style trousers and oversized bows - he also let us know he has not lost his flare for the fantastic.
Hosted in the Salon des Boiseries, a wood-panelled room overlooking the Tuileries Garden that is rarely open to the public, the cocktails drew footwear's leading men Christian Louboutin and Bruno Frisoni. Next-generation designers Roksanda Ilincic and Maxime Simoëns paid their respects - the former attributing her love of colour to Schiaparelli. Jean Paul Gaultier and Inès de la Fressange were overheard discussing the signature shocking pink (the hue appeared underfoot as a pile carpet, laid down for the occasion).
'The style of Schiaparelli is still possible because she was so much beyond and before others,' said de la Fressange once Gaultier had drifted off, pausing mid-sentence to snap a picture of the fox-fringed boots. 'She actually did boots like this. [Every] designer has been inspired by Schiaparelli. It's just impossible to avoid her - like Balenciaga, like Chanel. But even stronger.'
Milliner Stephen Jones confirmed the sentiment with charming candour. 'There is no one for me more inspirational than Schiaparelli,' he said. 'The shoe hat is the best hat ever made in the world. And I'm jealous of it every day of my life.'
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