Haute Couture: The return of couture’s greatest rivalry, Chanel v Schiaparelli
In Robert Altman’s fashion film, "Prêt-à-Porter,“ Paris haute couture is described as “a thrilling bore.” No wonder the film was a flop – despite the presence of Julia Roberts, Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren, and that it rates a miserable 5.1 on IMDB.
For there is no greater expression of high style, or more brilliant laboratory of truly new fashion than the haute couture collections, which debut this season on June 30 in Paris, with several notable couture debuts and stylistic jousts.
Most significantly at Chanel and Schiaparelli, whose two founders Coco and Elsa were legendary rivals in their heyday. Chez Chanel, Virginie Viard, the long-time right-hand of Karl Lagerfeld, will make her couture debut; while at Schiaparelli, new hire, Texas-born Daniel Roseberry will make his Paris inauguration.
After a decade or more in the '80s and '90s when the calendar was reduced down to a half dozen key shows, this season there are 36 shows on the official calendar of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, French fashion’s governing body. And almost as many off-calendar events.
The five-day season, which finishes Thursday, July 4th with a day devoted to haute joaillerie, or high jewelry, is such a beehive of activity that one can count a score of shows whose designers were unable to enter the official schedule.
Becoming an official Haute Couture member of the Fédération is akin to becoming a cardinal in the Vatican. Entrance is only possible by being sponsored by an existing house and then being unanimously approved by the senior members.
There are only 15 full members, including such immortal houses as Chanel, Christian Dior, Givenchy and Schiaparelli. Beside them, there are a mere seven Correspondent Members, generally non-French mega designers such Giorgio Armani, Versace, Fendi and Elie Saab. Finally, there are 15 Guest Members, essentially emerging non-French names, like Ulyana Sergeenko of Russia; London-based Ralph & Russo; the Netherlands’ Iris Van Herpen and Guo Pei of China. Even, adding up another dozen or so indie houses, many of which show in their nation’s embassies in Paris, there are barely 50 couture house; compared to 220 red hats in the College of Cardinals in Rome.
The real action begins Monday morning with the season’s most-awaited debut of Roseberry at Schiaparelli. Roseberry spent a decade as head of women’s and men’s collections with the gray-flannel conceptualist Thom Browne in New York. So, his selection to become creative director of Schiaparelli, couture’s most famous Surrealist, may turn out to be an inspired one. Schiaparelli’s owner, Italian luxury billionaire Diego della Valle, can certainly not be faulted for lacking courage in his choice of 33-year-old Daniel. The American designer has been posting images of himself from Schiaparelli’s headquarters in Place Vendôme with a snarling stuffed tiger.
Elsa Schiaparelli’s greatest rival Coco Chanel will also see her latest successor, Virginie Viard, stage her debut couture show one day later. Three months after Lagerfeld's passing in February, Viard made her solo runway debut at Chanel in May with a cruise show inside the Grand Palais, that impressed for its wearability even as it slightly surprised for its understated presentation.
Considering the intense competitiveness between Elsa and Coco, and the fact that Chanel went on to become the world’s classiest fashion brand, while the house Schiaparelli was effectively shuttered for a half century after her death, comparisons will be inevitable.
Della Valle will also be busy with his key money maker, shoemaker Tod’s, where the great Alber Elbaz will make his first return to the spotlight since being fired by Lanvin three years ago. Over lunch on Tuesday, Elbaz will unveil his first capsule collection, Tod’s Happy Moment, and follow that up with a mega-party that night.
The other much awaited debut will be Julie de Libran, the very popular French designer, who quit troubled Sonia Rykiel this year, who will present her first signature ready-to-wear collection in her Left Bank apartment. Ironically, the season effectively kicks off on Saturday night with another ready-to-wear event, Miu Miu, when Miuccia Prada plans a show, dinner, and after party. Not to be missed.
Elsewhere, there will be a fresh exhibition in the late great Azzedine Alaia’s headquarters; a book signing by Olivier Theyskens; a happening cocktail by Belgium bagmaker extraordinaire Delvaux; a presentation of Olivier Saillard's collection for Moda Provera, this time a couture shirt collection; a surprise Acne studios show; a “new materials” show by Japanese couturier Yuima Nakazato; the latest Birkenstock collab’, called "Il Dolce Far Niente," with Marie-Louise Scio, Europe’s hippest hotelier who has just re-opened the famed Mezzatorre hotel in Ischia, and a cool opening soiree by the Fédération inside the Centre Georges-Pompidou.
And that’s just the opening Sunday evening… Hardly boring; certainly thrilling.
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