2020 would have been a major year for legacy Italian fashion house Schiaparelli, after an uneven decade back on the runway scene. Beyonce wore custom Schiaparelli couture to the Golden Globes in January—remember January?—voluminous gold shoulder poufs sparkling. Emilia Clarke, Celine Dion, and Kelly Marie Tran also adorned themselves in Schiaparelli at other award shows and end-of-year gatherings. By all accounts, the brand was finally poised to make its comeback, in a big way.
And then it all got canceled.
Some context: Founder Elsa Schiaparelli, considered one of the definitive “voices” of mid-century European fashion, launched the brand’s evening wear offerings in Paris, in 1931. She closed the house down in the 1950s, after a period of post-war austerity dried up Schiaparelli’s well-to-do clients. Long after her death, allegations surfaced that she was a possible spy and Nazi collaborator—allegations that coincided with Italian businessman Diego Della Valle acquiring the brand in 2012. Those rumors were never exactly “proven,” but combined with the fact the relaunched brand didn’t receive the official Haute Couture designation from the French Ministry of Industry until 2017, the direction and purpose in the industry of a revived Schiaparelli was somewhat questionable.
But after former Thom Browne designer Daniel Roseberry ascended to Schiaparelli’s creative directorship in 2019 the couturier flourished, almost immediately. For his first collection, at Fall 2019's Couture week, Roseberry sat at an artist’s drafting table and walked viewers of the show through his artistic process. Throughout, he sketched away, while ensconced by what Vogue critic Hamish Bowles’ called “the rackety sound of the Manhattan subway train as it emerges into the sunlight to cross the bridge to Brooklyn.” The experience was a departure for the Italian-bred house, once most associated with European royalty. It was also from that same collection that the aforementioned celebrity looks were pulled, all to critical acclaim from the fashion press. It makes the lack of red carpets this year, for once, almost disheartening. With Valentino’s domination of the award season for the last few years, a new injection of glamour (and vision) was sorely needed, and Roseberry seemed to offer it in spades.
The house is still around, of course, in magazines and at virtual festivities. But none of those feel the same, do they?
More optimistically, I spied a Schiaparelli top in Vogue’s Paloma Elsesser cover story, shot by Annie Leibovitz. For a brand as archaic and fossilized as Vogue, it was genuinely nice to see Elsesser bring something entirely new to the cover. If anything, it makes Wintour’s latest promotion to Global Chief Content Officer somewhat hopeful. Perhaps her evil Eye of Sauron has, for once, averted its gaze elsewhere.
Below are some of the many Schiaparelli designs Roseberry has clearly looked to for inspiration, contrasted with his own. Thankfully, he has the keen sense to update them, of course. No need to continue the work of the woman if she was indeed a Nazi collaborator, after all. Coco Chanel’s legacy more than fills that wretched niche.