Schiaparelli’s Animal Fantasia

With a wall of shocking pink flowers on the grand stairway of the Paris opera house, the Schiaparelli Haute Couture show made a statement before the first animalistic headdress or surreal accessory hit the catwalk.

And what a catwalk! Instead of presenting the collection, as for the last few years, in the airily elegant “Schiap” residence overlooking the Place Vendôme, the new venue was in the intensely decorated Palais Garnier – although nothing could compete with the most dramatic outfits that appeared after the relative calm of black.

“I wanted it to be about Schiap herself – her personality and what she was as a woman,” said Design Director Bertrand Guyon, as he stood backstage by a moodboard of photos entirely of the couturier, who rose to fame in the 1920s and became one of the most prominent fashion designers between the wars.

“I was inspired by her; how she wore things by day and by night, her personality, personal style, her sensibility, and intimacy,” Guyon continued. “She loved animals, so there are pictures of her with her dogs. She even wrote a memoir of her pet dog. And she had a big sense of humour, so she wore hats like in the shape of rabbits.”

Taking a deep breath after what the designer called an “Animalia Fantasia” of madcap accessories, the awkward shoes that had models tripping on the runway, and the enthusiasm of the clients, Guyon had taken things forward.

With the support of owner Diego Della Valle, Schiaparelli is coming back to life as a viable brand, starting from the top downwards – literally in the case of those animal headdresses, and metaphorically in that the brand is surely edging towards ready-to-wear.

The success of Guyon’s quirky, but graceful, dresses on the red carpet and the line-up of customers at this show proved that there is business behind the madness. Not all the outfits were so crazy.

An elegantly cut, body-conscious black jacket opened the show – paired with navy silk ballooning trousers that broke into a bold zebra print. Other animal prints were on sporty clothes topped with a gilded lion headdress.

The beauty was in the detail: little clusters of turquoise stone as the buttons of a tailored jacket; a slender black dress decorated with embroidered “eyes”. And stripping off the quirky rabbit hat, the pink pant suit was fresh and charming.

I felt that in the jewellery alone – in which Guyon excels – there is a business opportunity, now that Gucci has opened the floodgates of the accessories in the luxury market.

If there is a nagging doubt about this reincarnation of Schiaparelli, it is that there is still too much of Elsa and too little of 0Guyon. Maybe, like those animals, the wilder effects should be rounded up so that the clothes could seem more appropriate to the 21st century. Yet there was a welcome new sense of freedom for this Schiaparelli collection in its new surroundings.

“It’s really important for us to be here and also because next year we have a special event with the Opéra Garnier for its birthday,” Guyon said, referring to a 350-year celebration in 2019. “We have this collaboration with them, so I’m very happy.”