It is almost couture season again, and the next collections are ready to go on the catwalk. What remains of the fabled “100 years system”, to use social philosopher Giles Lipovetsky’s definition, resides in those handful of labels that still produce the exclusivity of haute couture. The dresses are waiting for models to wear them, waiting for our eyes to watch them, and waiting for the few purses in the entire world that can afford them.
Last season, Spring 2014, the rolling sound of applause welcomed Marco Zanini’s attempt to revive the House of Schiapparelli, over sixty years since the last Elsa Schiapparelli collection. The cheers came from the notorious hands of Jean Paul Gaultier, Pierpaolo Piccioli, Mariagrazia Chiuri, Carla Bruni and the many other stars that were sitting on the front row. Despite the fleeting success of Zanini, the question to be asked is: did we really need this collection? Were we really missing the name of Schiapparelli during couture week? Probably we were missing the woman, the creator and the designer, but not her surname, because a surname in itself is just an empty box.
For Autumn 2013, Christian Lacroix designed the couture collection for the House of Schiapparelli. The result was similar to the exhumation of a decaying body. Namely, instead of giving a contemporary interpretation by following Schiapparelli’s philosophy, Lacroix designed a dusty collection mimicking Schiapparelli’s garments, with no attention to the current. Unsurprisingly, he was promptly replaced with Zanini.
Zanini tried not to fall into these traps. According to the Italian designer, Elsa Schiapparelli was not only a surrealist, but also a punk ante litteram and pop before pop. He avoided the use of Schiapparelli’s lobsters, trompe-l’oeil, and the colour that Schiapparelli popularised in the twenties, shocking pink. This missing colour has, in fact, a deeper meaning, as it epitomises a specific attitude.
Perhaps Zanini tried not to be so surrealist because he was aware that surrealism in fashion today is associated with Viktor & Rolf. He also tried not to be too punk, perhaps because punk today is associated with labels such as Vivienne Westwood. Similarly, he couldn’t be too pop because Versace, Gaultier, and many others, have colonised the word. Zanini’s collection is perhaps not a disinterment of Schiapparelli’s creations, but it is nothing else either. Her heritage was dismembered and appropriated by other designers a long time ago. The gap has been filled, leaving no room for Zanini.
In the unceremonious explosion of colours that characterised some of the dresses in the last collection, shocking pink, as a block colour, was missing. This absence was striking because it clearly stated the distance between Zanini and Elsa Schiapparelli. This choice also cut away any link between the current designer and the name of his Maison.
This is the problem when trying to revive a brand that closed their doors sixty years ago. Again, the question is, why? Did we need this effort? Does anyone buy those housewife-print dresses just because the label refers to the name of a genius that will never return? Something similar, yet less tragic, also happened with the House of Vionnet. In fashion, the time should be mature to go ahead, aware of the importance of our history, but also trying not to fall into the trap of reviving a corpse from the past.