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Couture Feels the Fire

When fantasy collides with reality, there’s only one winner, as Schiaparelli’s Daniel Roseberry found out on Monday.
Model Irina Shayk walks the runway at Schiaparelli's Couture show in Paris.
Model Irina Shayk walks the runway at Schiaparelli's Couture show in Paris. (Getty Images)

PARIS — One of fashion’s enduring fascinations is the way it’s bedeviled by unwitting synchronicities. John Galliano’s last-season couture show for Maison Margiela — Artisanal, as it’s more popularly known — featured an archly contrived orgy of cinematic gun violence that sparked the ire of our American friends. “Cinema Inferno” was its title, and, on Sunday night, there was a graphic reminder of its impact in the basement of Maison Margiela’s sleek new premises, where a mirrored infinity room starred the film’s vigilante gunslingers cocked, aimed and ready to shoot against a blazing backdrop. Like Yayoi Kusama in Hell.

The following morning, Daniel Roseberry’s latest collection for Schiaparelli, also titled “Inferno,” generated even more intense antipathy. Roseberry’s inspiration was The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri’s 14th century classic, in which the poet descends through the nine circles of hell. During his journey, he encounters human frailties embodied by wild beasts: the leopard is lust, the lion is pride, the she-wolf is avarice. Roseberry’s first mistake was to assume his audience would follow him down through the philosophical intricacies of Dante’s journey to enlightenment. His second was to create literal, faux-taxidermy representations of those human frailties on his catwalk. Shalom Harlow was the leopard, Irina Shayk the lion, Naomi Campbell the she-wolf. Just as it did last season when Galliano’s fashion fantasy collided with the real world, Instagram barked. The king of the jungle reduced to a big-game hunter’s trophy transmuted into a rich woman’s fashion accessory provoked outrage.

That obviously wasn’t Roseberry’s intention. “I always say to myself we live in a post-Phoebe Philo world,” he mused after the show. “Post-Phoebe, everyone’s brains changed, designer and customer, and I don’t want to chase that aesthetic because it’s the white whale. But I do love that raw, real woman who needs to speak just as loud as the lion on her shoulder.” So here we were, Moby Dick to Mufasa. In a way, Roseberry was maintaining his allegiance to Elsa Schiaparelli herself. Stay shocking! Hold fast to a sense of wonder. Too bad it’s going to take some effort for people to look past those unwieldy animal masks to the artisanal wonders of velvet column dresses with a hand-painted shimmer, or a breastplate sculpted from lemon tree marquetry, or the hand-painted pinstripes on a navy pantsuit, or the surreal detailing of dresses composed of “leather-slicked” paillettes of tin.

There was something grandiosely pagan about the presentation. The imperial procession through the grand hall of the Petit Palais — Diana Ross’s voice solemnly intoning something or other over Phillip Glass’s stately electronica, with gold-painted faces and wild animal simulacra and one single huge copper bust mounted on a model’s shoulders — reminded me of Elizabeth Taylor entering Rome as Cleopatra. Naomi’s fiercesome she-wolf was immediately followed by a willowy blonde in a charmeuse slip. Roseberry said he liked the contradiction. “The poetic face, the serenity, next to the warrior, feels deeper, more now.” There were literally hundreds of thousands — at last count — on Instagram who would disagree.

John Galliano is, of course, no stranger to controversy, but Maison Margiela’s move to its new headquarters, in a building formally occupied by Pernod Ricard, the iconic French tipple, promises to stabilise and consolidate his own role and the maison’s growth as a business. Even though his winsomely titled Co-Ed show wasn’t strictly part of the couture schedule, its finely tuned idiosyncrasies were as haute as anything else we’re likely to see this week. The perfect accompaniment was Max Brhon’s “The Future,” whose three-minute duration was stretched and spun into an entire show soundtrack by Galliano’s longtime musical collaborator Jeremy Healy. And that seemed like a paradigm for what the designer does with his clothes. A handful of ideas toyed with, torn apart, re-stitched, overlaid, bleached, dyed, restrained, released. All of Galliano’s signatures for Margiela were here — the decortiqué that pares a garment back to its bare bones (the chaos he can wreak on an Argyle sweater!), dressing in haste, the self-explanatory recicla, plus new techniques like rompage, bias-cut dresses abbreviated and attached to romper shorts, or Rorschach cutting, where one familiar idea (the shape of Mickey Mouse’s ears, say) is cut into another equally familiar notion (in Mickey’s case, the yoke of a Western shirt).

The unhinged glamour that is Galliano’s most seductive calling card was in full effect, amplified by a genderless catwalk parade. Count and Hen, the doomed beauties who starred in “Cinema Inferno,” were joined by other shades from Galliano’s past, in particular the extraordinary Pamela Rooke who, as Vivienne Westwood’s amanuensis Jordan, galvanised an entire sub-cult. She lived again in the pencil skirts, see-through tops, suspenders and fetishistic latex bits and pieces that sashayed down Galliano’s catwalk. And, speaking of sashays, choreographer Pat Boguslawski deserves a round of applause, if only to remind an audience that it takes an entire team of people perfectly attuned to a designer’s vision to realise a world as particular as Galliano’s.

Further Reading

Battered but unbroken, Demna is battling his way out of a box at Balenciaga. But at Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli’s box is packed with possibilities.

Sacai designer Chitose Abe sees her small but perfect collaboration with Moncler as an intellectual exercise that reflects on the distant future of Remo Ruffini’s skiwear behemoth, writes Tim Blanks.

About the author
Tim Blanks
Tim Blanks

Tim Blanks is Editor-at-Large at The Business of Fashion. He is based in London and covers designers, fashion weeks and fashion’s creative class.

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