Maison Schiaparelli

Rebirth of the grand fashion houses

Poiret and Schiaparelli are among the old-world French brands making a stylish return.

When Maison Schiaparelli re-launched its couture business in 2014, shocking-pink dresses, lobster motifs and eccentric headpieces added some of designer Elsa Schiaparelli’s unconventional flair to the biannual couture weeks. Her designs had not been seen on the catwalk in 60 years – Schiaparelli had closed its doors in 1954.

As Marco Zanini, the designer put in charge of the first new collection for spring 2014 put it: “She was punk before punk, and Pop before Pop.” Zanini first read Schiaparelli’s autobiography, Shocking Life, at the age of 15, so for him it was a dream come true to revive the legacy of a woman known for designing a hat in the form of a shoe and a gown featuring a lobster drawn by Salvador Dali.

The rights to the name of Schiaparelli were first purchased in 2006. The eight years that it took to re-launch the brand reflect the challenge of reviving old-world fashion houses like this one. Despite the daunting task, more and more defunct houses are being brought back from the dead.

How are the brands finding their way in the new world of fashion, sometimes 100 years on?

French label Rochas was resurrected in 2008, and the Paris-based Spanish brand Paco Rabanne, and iconic 1960s brand Courrèges, re-launched in 2011. Paul Poiret’s fabled couture house returned to the Paris runways in March 2018, after almost a century’s absence. Recently LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton appointed designer Guillaume Henry to revive the fashion arm of Jean Patou, a French fashion and perfume brand from 1912.

But just how are these houses adapting their style lexicons and design techniques, and how are they finding their way in the new world of fashion, sometimes 100 years on?

Back to the future

Schiaparelli is moving beyond couture. At the ready-to-wear shows in Paris in September, Schiaparelli presented what it called a pret-a-couture project, inspired by Man Ray who was a friend and collaborator of the designer. It also launched its first handbag to coincide with the re-opening of its historic boutique at 21 Place Vendôme, marking a move into the lucrative accessories business which helps many fashion houses stay afloat. The brand said in a statement that it is, “projecting the very definition of a contemporary couture house into the future.”

At the show a short film by French artists Kuntzel + Deygas, exploring the relationship between Man Ray and Schiaparelli, was screened. This, and shocking-pink flower bouquets by Danish artist Nicolai Bergmann, celebrated Schiaparelli’s long-standing tradition of collaborating with artists.

Sixties brand Courrèges was best known for its space-age fashion designs, and its re-launch in 2011 meant that some of the most fabulously designed electric cars finally saw the light of day. Coqueline Courrèges, the wife and business partner of founder Andre Courrèges, first designed a series of futuristic cars in the 1960 but they were not produced at that time.

Showing that these old brands are worth the effort, in September 2018 Courrèges was fully acquired by holding company Artémis. New designer, Yolanda Zobel mined the label’s vinyl past to create pieces such as a snap-front jacket in the house’s favourite material for spring/summer 2019. Zobel is tackling the question of how to take this vinyl-centric label forward in the post-plastic age. Initiatives include a pop-up shop to sell off Courrèges’ vinyl product. The brand recently introduced a new logo and has been showing archive films and other materials on social media at #thefutureisbehindyou.

The biggest French fashion house to re-launch recently is Poiret. The legendary French designer was best known for freeing the female form from the binds of a corset and for creating spacious designs, including his famous kimono coat.

French-Chinese couturier Yiqing Yin serves as the artistic director for Poiret, which re-launched with a ready-to-wear collection in March 2018. Its previous focus was on couture. Yin is an accomplished young designer who most recently held the title of artistic director at another old-world French house, Leonard. She has had fun playing with Poiret’s oversized forms.

“It was a challenge to put my name on the table, because I believe that from the greatest masters today, there isn’t one that hasn’t been inspired by Poiret,” she says. “By his architectural style, use of volumes or fantasy. He was also the first to create branding and lifestyle. On a style level, everyone knows the silhouettes of Poiret, and the fact that he has really liberated the female form.”

It is no use simply repeating the past – Yiqing Yin

So how did she approach this legacy? “I think that every single piece we have created carries a part of the legacy, whether it is the spirit of Poiret or the form,” she says. “There are a few visual aesthetic references that are very clear. In the spring/summer 2019 collection, it is the harem pants because he was very inspired by the Orient. It is no use simply repeating the past but, instead, better to transpose his ideas and ask how would he work today. He was at the service of women and he would ask himself how could he allow them to get to the best version of themselves.

“I started this adventure with six months of intense study, looking at all of his archives and books. But I was more inspired by his personality than the material archives of his clothes,” says Yin.  “His way of living, his audacity, the magic of his mind. This is interesting to explore today. He would be on the street looking at how women live. It is really important for a brand like this one to be revived but whilst transposing and transforming those ideas for contemporary needs.”

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