Bowers of blossom and birdsong met guests as they strolled down a shocking pink carpet for Christian Lacroix’s homage to Elsa Schiaparelli in Paris this morning: pink, famously, was Schiaparelli’s favourite shade; to her what red is to Valentino, say. And Lacroix loves it too.
The tribute collection of 18 hand-worked pieces, created in collaboration with some of the French capital’s most feted ateliers – embroiderer Lesage and milliner Maison Michel among them - was displayed on a mirrored carousel. M Lacroix’s lovely drawings, at least some of them with Schiaparelli’s own face super-imposed, were hung alongside. The idea, according to Lacroix himself, was to put Schiaparelli back at 'the centre of her fashion house'.
In his own way and without resorting to pastiche – although a handful of outfits were open reconstructions - Lacroix, one of the world’s few remaining bona fide couturiers – did just that.
It’s a clever match. Both names are characterised by an exuberant aesthetic, a love of fine art and contemporary culture, extravagant embroideries and eccentric colour juxtapositions (in this case plum and chartreuse, magenta and flame). For her part, Schiaparelli operated as a conceptualist and art director long before the latter profession even existed, preferring to leave pattern cutting and sewing to the experts. Lacroix describes himself as more of a 'decorator' than an 'architect'. When the latter was forced to close his own business in 2009 the fashion world lost one of its most talented protagonists and so all the better to see his work here. Not that he’s been content to bask in past glories these past four years. Costume design for ballet and opera, hotels and more have kept this irrepressible French fashion name more than busy in the meantime.
For this latest venture, while Schiaparelli was clearly the principal influence, Lacroix' hand-writing was present and correct. The pockets, pom poms, harem pants and bow motifs that were the late couturier's hallmarks were juxtaposed with Hispanic embroideries, overblown gowns straight out of a fashion fairy tale and even the le pouf skirt with which the southern French born designer made his name back in the 1980s when Lacroix – or Lacroix, sweetie – was a byword for savoir faire, status and style.
Schiaparelli, who died in 1973, closed her salon in 1954. Her blithe, witty and opulent point of view was unsuited to a climate dominated by post-war austerity. Exhibitions have since been devoted to her work - last year's Metropolitan Museum of Art's blockbuster show 'Impossible Conversations' teamed Schiaparelli with the great female designer of this age, Miuccia Prada. Schiaparelli’s tropes, many of them indebted to the Surrealist art movement - scent bottles shaped like the body of a woman, a lobster dress (drawn by Salvador Dali), hats shaped like high heeled shoes and handbags like telephones among them - continue to resonate, not least in the work of other designers.
Tod's group bought Schiaparelli seven years ago with a view to returning this hand-writing to its rightful home. The collaboration with Lacroix is a first move and will be repeated on an annual basis: fashion designers, artists and more will be invited to create capsule collections to honour Schiaparelli’s style. In early 2014, meanwhile, an in-house designer, rumoured to be Marco Zanini, formerly of Rochas, will launch both haute couture and ready-to-wear collections in a bid to translate fashion as rarefied art form into a commercial reality.