PARIS: Sixty years after Elsa Schiaparelli’s last runway show, the house Monday made a highly awaited comeback with an elegant collection studded with whimsy, in a nod to the Italian fashion legend.
The long-dormant house was revived on the second day of haute couture fashion week in Paris, which also saw Christian Dior and Giambatista Valli unveil their latest Spring-Summer collections.
Between the two world wars, the radically bold Elsa Schiaparelli was one of fashion’s most prominent figures and became Coco Chanel’s biggest rival.
She collaborated with her close friend Salvador Dali who painted the lobster on her famous Lobster Dress in 1937 and designed the trompe l’oueil Tears print on a dress shown at her riotous 1938 “Circus Collection” show in Paris.
The designer died in 1973 and the fashion world has been holding its breath to see what the future holds for Schiaparelli since her house was bought by Italian luxury goods tycoon Diego Della Valle in 2007.
Arriving guests trod a carpet in Schiaparelli’s signature shocking pink before passing through a bamboo cage surrounded by cherry blossoms like that which graced the entrance to the designer’s Paris boutique.
The houses new design head, Zanini, gave several nods to Schiaparelli’s famed flights of fancy – such her famed surrealist shoe hat – with models who sported brightly colored hair, a blue fringe, pointed and twisting hats or a dip-dyed bridal veil.
The first model wore a long draping dress in Schiaparelli pink, blue and white with a hand-painted print called “the starry sky,” according to the designer.
A masculine suit with ruffled hem and a beaded striped silk T-shirt dress were both worn with flat, feathered crocodile sandals, adding a touch of “nonchalance,” according to the Zanini’s notes.
Long evening dresses were paired with tailored jackets and high-waisted trousers with elbow-length white gloves in a collection that he said mixed elegance and eccentricity.
The designer took inspiration from “the materials and exclusive prints” used by Schiaparelli, working with Parisian embroiderers, plumassiers – who work with ornamental feathers – and glovemakers to realize the handmade couture items.
“It is very beautiful and poetic, very modern ... but also very wearable,” said John Paul Gaultier, who joined supermodel Elle Macpherson and former French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy at the show.
Haute couture work exists only in Paris, where it is a legally protected appellation subject to strict criteria such as the amount of work carried out by hand, the limited number of pieces and the size of the house’s workforce.
Italian designer Giambatista Valli unveiled luxurious minidresses in quilted ivory, with exquisitely embroidered cherry blossoms or the bright blue “bleuets” flowers seen throughout the collection.
Two-piece evening gowns clung to the hips and thighs and flared out to the ground, such as one skirt in canary yellow paired with a red embroidered bustier.
Large draped bows covered several skirts, some cut away in front and others longer in the back.
For Christian Dior, creative director Raf Simons celebrated the intimate relationship between the woman and the designer in a light and effortless collection that he described as his “most labor intensive ever produced.”
Intricate, delicate embroidery and cutwork in dresses, capes and tuxedo jackets dotted with small holes offered a “peekaboo sensual sexuality” throughout as well as a three-dimensional, architectural feel.
Simons mostly stuck to a color palette of black, white, ivory and ink blue in his 53 creations which included loose-fitting dresses, varying from off-the-shoulder to strapless, some with a plunging V-neckline.
Calf-length dresses with billowing skirts were paired with sneakers in what Simons said he saw as a “new insouciance.”
He said he didn’t want to “force a look” on women and that it was okay to take off your heels, throw on some comfortable shoes and just go dancing.
“Haute couture became something women were watching ... as a spectacle the way you go to theater. It is not all about the red carpet,” Simons said.
“I also want to feel like you want to wear it ... to connect it more with the way of living.”
American actress Allison Williams from the hugely popular series “Girls,” who joined other celebrities such as Kate Bosworth, said she particularly loved a series of “gorgeous” jumpsuits.
The show took place in an all white room that resembled the inside of a cave, or igloo, in what the designer’s notes described as a Modernist “re-imagining of the intimacy of the female area of the salon.”
Dior’s chief executive Sidney Toledano said Simons – in his fourth season for the house – and his modern take on the line had helped attract new clients.
He told AFP that 2013 was “a record year” for Dior haute couture, with more and more clients coming from Asian countries such as China.