“We are so proud of him,” chorused Valentino’s design duo about Bertrand Guyon, the couturier from the fashion shadows, who received a chorus of “Bravos!” for his Schiaparelli collection.
Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli were referring to the seven years the designer spent with them at Valentino. And they had reason to cheer him on, for Guyon hit that sweet spot between heritage and relevance.
Just a “simple” chiffon blouse became part of the streamlined “Schiap” elegance that opened the show. But amongst the clothes were touches of whimsy in dabs of the famous “shocking pink” in fur and the gilded sunbursts that were the signatures of Elsa Schiaparelli, the pioneering designer who made her mark in the 1920s and 30s.
Using a theatre set as staging was not to flag up a drama queen collection, but rather a nod to cultural life in Paris between the two world wars. This story was on one of the mood boards backstage, along with images of the young Elsa during her time in London, before she joined the Surrealist set in Paris.
“Elsa was very cosmopolitan — she was born in Italy and then lived in London, America and Paris,” said Bertrand, who had steeped himself in Schiap’s story. That panned out on the runway as tailored British tweeds or even a breast pocket with a Salvador Dali-style purse in the shape of an old-fashioned telephone dial. These clothes were not theatrical, however. Rather, they were comprehensible, if dressy. There were day clothes with tailored trousers and fancier jackets, while evening gowns had grace, elegance, and great exit lines with bared backs framed by sparkling straps.
The big story was brocade, which gave shimmer and texture to trousers or mid-length skirts. Lightness — say a chiffon dress draped with nude pleating — was another delicate touch. There were also little references to Guyon’s own back story: his time at Givenchy with Hubert himself and with the founder’s successors, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, which was followed by a period as Christian Lacroix’s right hand.
With all this weight of the past, the collection might have been heavy with references. Instead, each dose — including the famous vivid pink — seemed well judged. I loved the glancing references to the drawings of Christian Bérard and a discreet version of the sunburst embroidery taken up by Yves Saint Laurent.
Reviving images from the past often leads to a fashion flop, but if some of the daywear seemed too literal, the general impression was of a fresh fashion culture whisked into a light soufflé.
Diego Della Valle, who owns brand Schiaparelli, has waited some time for this moment. So has haute couture, which, if it is to survive through the 21st century, must be more than a brand ambassador and embrace the needs and desires of genuine clients. Meg Ryan, sitting front row with Game of Thrones star Carice van Houten and fashionista Daphne Guinness, proved that sophisticated women are drawn towards these clothes.
Was this one of those fashion moments that marks history? No. But the lightness and sensitivity of an embroidered golden jacket with slim trousers, the brocade dresses sculpted to a mid-calf hemline, and the bright pink, pale blue and black patchwork fur coat all created a lust for loveliness. And that is the true art of haute couture.