Social media, along with the fact that there are now more fashion brands than ever before, means that the pursuit of “going viral” has plagued many fashion houses. Rather than focusing on craftsmanship and innovation, many just want to be seen, leading to a lot of empty noise.
On Monday, Schiaparelli creative director Daniel Roseberry opened Spring Couture Week with Inferno. The collection drew parallels between Dante Alighieri’s 1308 poem in which the narrator descends into hell, and a fashion designer’s battle with self-doubt. Roseberry mused that behind the late great Elsa Schiaparelli’s now legendary pieces must have been an element of self-doubt.
There is an art to balancing surrealism and ultra-realism, and critics and fans alike are unsure if Roseberry got this balance right with the three arguably infamous pieces from the collection – the faux taxidermy animal heads – that represented lust, pride and greed. In this era of anti-fur, pro-plant-based and #outrage, it’s no surprise that the faux taxidermy animal heads caused a stir. However, this seems to have been the aim as Kylie Jenner, who goes viral when she does pretty much anything, was dressed in the lion-head dress, which was meant to represent pride.
The question of whether this was a beautiful collection is not up for debate. Even if you were not a fan of the three on the nose and yet supposedly metaphorical pieces, the other 29 looks were beyond exceptional. Only expert craftsmanship could create velvet dresses hand painted with iridescent shimmer, a skirt made with wooden beads and ornate bodices that partially cover the face.
However, the pursuit of shock factor may overshadow all of this hard work as many stop at the faux-taxidermy pieces. Had Jenner been dressed in a different piece, I would argue that Roseberry, having expertly communicated his vision and reasoning behind those controversial pieces, was just unaware of the potential backlash.
Then again, who are these collections for? The people that consume couture fashion via Jenner, versus the ones that read show notes are arguably two very different audiences. So perhaps engaging with the coveted, Jenner-obsessed Gen Z audience was Roseberry’s aim and that intentionality may err on the side of genius.
This is especially relevant when you consider that since inception, Schiaparelli has been synonymous with surprise, leading to audiences being filled with wonder and excitement before each Schiaparelli show. Elsa Schiaparelli was even named the Mother of Strange Fashion. Plus, with all the self-referential odes to Elsa, perhaps Roseberry is simply acting as she would have, had she been designing in 2023.
Ultra-realism versus surrealism, wow factor versus empty shock factor, love or hate; it is undeniable that Roseberry is exceptionally gifted and exactly what Schiaparelli needs. This season he toed the line effectively as the artisanship was palpable and evident, from Doja Cat and Pat McGrath’s collaborative look featuring 30,000 red Swarovski crystals to having heavy hitters like Naomi Campbell, Irina Shayk, Shalom Harlow and Adut Akech gracing the runway. Is this couture? Yes. Is this collection beautiful? Yes. Does this collection evoke emotion and conversation? Yes. So truly, that’s all that matters.
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