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Schiaparelli’s walk on the wild side was in poor taste if you ask me


By Sarah Finnan
24th Jan 2023

@kyliejenner

Schiaparelli’s walk on the wild side was in poor taste if you ask me

Designer Daniel Roseberry has set tongues wagging with his latest collection for Maison Schiaparelli and, personally, I’m not a fan. 

Couture Fashion Week kicked off in Paris yesterday, with Italian fashion house Schiaparelli amongst those to have presented their latest Haute Couture SS 2023 collection.

Inspired by Italian philosopher Dante Alighieri and The Divine Comedy, his magnum opus, designer Daniel Roseberry described the collection as his “homage to doubt”, interpreting the famous work through subtle design choices, and more obvious ones too – namely the foam animal heads that adorned three of the collection’s most memorable looks. 

Shalom Harlow donned a hand-painted wool and silk bustier dress, complete with a large snow leopard head on the front. Naomi Campbell strutted down the runway in a floor-length coat, with the head of a she-wolf perched on her shoulder. Irina Shayk wore a strapless gown with a lion head attached, as did Kylie Jenner in the front row.

Photo via @kyliejenner

Representing “lust, pride and avarice”, the creations were so lifelike that many pondered whether they were, indeed, taxidermy. Turns out, they’re completely artificial, and were man-made using faux fur, foam and resin. There’s no denying the incredible craftsmanship that went into each piece (seriously, they’re breathtaking), but using dead animals (fake or otherwise) seems in poor taste to me.

Usually, I’m a huge Schiaparelli fan. Their trademark gold-plated nipple shields? Divine! The chain-link halter gown Kendall Jenner recently wore in Dubai? Need! Immediately! Almost two years on and I’m still thinking about the lung-shaped breastplate Bella Hadid wore to the Cannes Film Festival. But this show, beautiful as it was, has left a sour taste in my mouth.

“Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso: One cannot exist without the others,” Roseberry continued in the show notes, referencing the three books of The Divine Comedy and explaining that he wanted to celebrate “the glory of nature” and its role in “guarding the woman who wears it”. A noble aspiration, no doubt… but I’m not convinced. 

Couture Week is hinged on escapism. As Vogue noted, the point is not to deliver safe or even wearable ideas. For designers, it’s a chance to really push the boundaries of craftsmanship and technique. That said, this kind of feels like a step in the wrong direction – especially for an industry where both human and animal rights issues are still of grave concern. 

Bizarrely, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has offered surprise support for the collection, reportedly telling TMZ that they interpreted Kylie’s look as a celebration of lions’ beauty, even claiming it could be a statement against trophy hunting. Despite PETA’s take on the matter, many social media users decried the collection as promoting animal abuse. For them, the show didn’t extol the virtues of nature, but condemn it – almost glorifying trophy hunting. Roseberry may have used artificial materials and faux fur but if the intent was to dissuade people from wanting to wear animals, he fell short. 

“No matter how you justify it to your models and celebrities – the faux animal couture is a huge problem with implications you don’t understand… Even though NO ANIMALS WERE HARMED the concept promotes wearing animals for fashion and a disgusting out-of-touch mentality the elite continue to suffer from,” one opposer noted online. “We have to stop showing animals as luxury ‘products’,” another agreed. “They may be made from foam, but these are endangered species that have historically been killed for their pelts to be turned into garments.”

To play devil’s advocate, you might say that Roseberry’s creations are proof that animals need never be harmed for fashion’s sake – the remarkable likeness of the heads to their real-life counterparts shows that the technology is out there to create such masterpieces without relying on animals. I understand that point of view, even agree with it… I just don’t think showing people how beautiful animals look through clothing is the way to dissuade them from wearing animals as clothing. Yes, the collection inspires a reverie on the duality of beauty and death, but it also perpetuates the mindset that animals are there to satisfy human egotism.

Roseberry probably always anticipated such a reaction though. “There is no such thing as heaven without hell; there is no joy without sorrow; there is no ecstasy of creation without the torture of doubt. My prayer for myself is that I remember that always – that, on my most difficult days, when inspiration just won’t come, I remember that no ascension to heaven is possible without first a trip to the fires, and the fear that comes with it. Let me embrace it always,” he concluded in the show notes, almost predicting that he would be vilified for this controversial move. 

So, why do it? If it is purely to get people talking, then mission accomplished. 

Even those not in the know (at least when it comes to fashion), have probably heard tell of Schiaparelli’s couture show. But, with the world’s eyes on you, it’s important to have something to say and, honestly, I’m not quite sure what it is Roseberry is trying to convey – especially when the entire collection has been reduced to clickbait that does little to show the designer’s true depth and talent. 

Photo via Schiaparelli

The rest of the collection, which is exceptional I might add, has been forgotten; overshadowed by three provocative looks that weren’t even Roseberry’s best. The tailoring with its boxy shoulders and extreme hourglass silhouette (inspired by the brand’s signature fragrance, Shocking) was a personal favourite. 

Photo via Schiaparelli

“This season, we concentrated less on deliberate artifice, such as our signature hyperstylised anatomy bijoux, and more on blurring the lines between the real and the unreal,” Roseberry told Design Scene of the collection.

Nature’s influence was present in many of the collection’s other looks; a bronze bustier reimagined as a giant oyster shell rising up like a fan, velvet fabric hand painted with pigment to change colour like the wings of a butterfly, sequins and feathers mimicking birds’ plumage. These beautiful homages to the natural world appeared to have less to prove, and more to show.

Doja Cat, on the other hand? Flawless, no notes. Arriving to the show clothed in hues of fiery red, the singer donned a dramatic red silk faille bustier, hand-knit skirt of lacquered wooden beads and Trompe l’œil toe boots. All exposed limbs and body parts were also painted red and adorned with over 30,000 Swarovski crystals. Custom designed by Roseberry, especially for her, the full look was pulled together by makeup artist to the stars Pat McGrath, whose team spent almost five hours hand-placing the crystals on Doja’s body. Did the look kind of remind me of HIM, the villain in The Powerpuff Girls? Well, yes actually… but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

A fusion of front row and runway, McGrath described Schiaparelli’s collection as “a beguiling blend of femininity and masculinity,” – which was evident in the tailoring alone. Doja’s look celebrated the essence of haute couture, with the singer masquerading as a live sculpture of sorts. It’s a shame that all attention has instead been drawn to the three animal heads.

Blurring the lines between the real and the unreal, you would be forgiven for mistaking the runway for a stage, Le Petit Palais for a theatre. Such was always Roseberry’s intention, who wanted to incorporate an element of surrealism into the collection – something brand founder, Elsa Schiaparelli was also known for. Regularly collaborating with different artists throughout her career, she once teamed up with surrealist artist Salvador Dalí to bring her vision to life. Safe to say she was a fan of headline-making too. 

That shock factor has always been integral to the brand’s DNA and the fashion house wouldn’t be where it is today without that risk-taking and courage… but, while there are plenty of things I loved about this show, the animal heads were not one of them. 

As the fashion industry at large strives toward positive change, particularly where environmentalism, sustainability and ethics are concerned, will couture follow suit? Or will it continue its old ways under the guise of creativity? Only time will tell. 

Photography: Maison Schiaparelli