The news last week that Christian Lacroix would be designing a fifteen piece collection for the designer-less house of Schiaparelli was met with guarded optimism by many fashion lovers. For others, it seems a sacrilege to try and reinvent the name of a long-dead designer.
The practice of keeping a fashion business alive after the death of the namesake designer is not new. A good example is Lanvin. When Jeanne Lanvin died in 1946, her daughter kept the business going, and in 1950 hired Antonio del Castillo to be the designer. He was replaced by Jules-Francois Crahay in 1962. After he left in 1984, there was a revolving door on the designer’s office at Lanvin until 2002 when Elber Alvaz took over and made the label what it is today. Alvaz’s work is usually highly praised, but it rarely has anything to do with the work of Jeanne Lanvin.
When Coco Chanel died in 1971, the House of Chanel was in trouble. It was not until Karl Lagerfeld became the designer in 1983 that Chanel regained its place at the top of the fashion heap. Unlike what happened at Lanvin, Lagerfeld is continually recycling and reusing the shapes, fabrics and motifs that were associated with Coco Chanel. A modern Chanel suit really does not need those CC logo buttons as the product is usually so recognisable as “Chanel.”
I think that a complete resurrection of a label is a bit trickier. This is not the first time the Schiaparelli name has been reinvented. In 1977 there was a failed attempt to reopen the house, and there were a few licenses for lingerie and perfumes during that time.
After hearing the news, I got out an old favorite book, Christian Lacroix: The Diary of a Collection. The book is actually a scrapbook that Lacroix kept while working on his Spring/Summer 1994 couture collection. It is a wonderful look into how he developed his ideas, starting with a Directoire era print that was hanging in the lobby of his studio. From there he began to see colors and shapes repeated in 1940s photos and garments, and he brought into the mix his own experience of how in the 1970s there was a nostalgia for the 1940s. So it is quite fair, but highly simplified, to say the collection was 1790s meets 1940s meets 1970s.
Lacroix assembled photos of what gave him an initial inspiration, along with fabric and lace swatches, and his sketches. For many of the garments in the collection, there are Polaroids of the piece as it is developed on the model. And at the end of the book there are runway pictures showing the finished products.
This photo of a Provencal bonnet with its insertion lace and pin-tucks and pleats inspired the dress sketched below it.
There’s the original sketch in the center of this page, with a more developed one to the left. You can see the dress in progress on the left, and at the bottom are photos of some of the materials used.
And this is the dress as it appeared on the runway. Would you have guessed that the inspiration was a bonnet?
Another starting place was the photo of an old Spanish man. Lacroix was attracted to the mix of pattern, and to the right you can see the fabrics he chose that gave the feel of the photo. The Polaroid shows one use of the fabric.
Lacroix’s sketch of the jacket includes the entire look, including thoughts about hair and shoes.
For the finished look he managed to use all the fabrics he had chosen.
I think it will be quite interesting to see how Lacroix reinterprets the work of Elsa Schiaparelli. As you can see from the examples, his work will not be a literal translation of Schiaparelli’s garments. He told the New York Times that he was interested in the contrasts evident in Schiaparelli: “High and low, sophistication and naïveté, black and color, austerity contrasting with a fantasy, the luxury of high society and a sense of the people’s choice.”
All photos from Christian Lacroix: The Diary of a Collection, Patrick Mauries, Simon & Schuster, 1996