1. Suzy Menkes
  2. Suzy Menkes

Suzy Menkes

Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes is the best-known fashion journalist in the world. After 25 years commenting on fashion for the International Herald Tribune (rebranded recently as The International New York Times), Suzy Menkes now writes exclusively for Vogue online, covering fashion worldwide.

Cherchez la femme

Suzy Menkes on Marco Zanini leaving Schiaparelli

11 Ноября 2014

Designer Marco Zanini

Yes, there is Karl Lagerfeld with more than 30 years’ experience of making Coco Chanel live on – and nearly 50 years, in 2015, of expressing the spirit of the Fendi sisters. But leaving aside Karl, the maestro of reinvention, does it really work to have a male designer take over a house founded by a strong woman?

The news that Marco Zanini has been ousted at Schiaparelli did not really surprise me. The designer had taken the codes of dynamic womanhood, laced with whimsy, and offered some striking pieces. They included surreal prints evoking “Schiap”‘s artistic circle in the Thirties, centred on Salvador Dalí.

Schiaparelli a/w couture designed by Marco Zanini

But I have just been reading Elsa Schiaparelli: A Biography, by America writer Meryle Secrest. She makes it clear that the fashion spirit of Elsa Schiaparelli was grounded in the designer’s own extraordinary life. Secrest’s new research into the early years tells a compelling story of a young, upper-class Italian woman who found freedom and love in London with a man who can best be described as a chancer: with his young wife in America, he read cards for money and was unfaithful and offhand with his wife and their sickly baby daughter.

Schiaparelli a/w couture designed by Marco Zanini

From that period of disillusion and loneliness was reborn the Schiap whose artistic mind was fired by what was happening in the wider culture of Paris in the Thirties. The clothes she made – and wore – were an absolute reflection of self.

Schiaparelli a/w couture designed by Marco Zanini

The same spirit of personal discovery and originality is true of Sonia Rykiel, whose Russian and Roumanian family background, melded with Parisian chic, made a unique fashion combination. The Rykiel brand has been floundering with designer Geraldo da Conceicao. Sonia had electrified the Paris fashion in the period of 1968 upheavals and gone on to express the free spirit of the Seventies in her knitwear.

An example of Schiaparelli’s surrealist approach to design. A silk-crêpe and metallic evening ensemble embroidered with a woman’s head from Elsa Schiaparelli’s collaboration with Jean Cocteau

Once again, it was the story of a woman designer putting the essence of herself into her collection – somehow inviting-like minded women to join her; the clothes as a lure to a lifestyle.

From the first outfit that came from Rykiel’s new designer Julie de Libran for the spring 2015 collection, you could sense that she had caught up the spirit of Sonya and what she stood for in the Seventies.

Elsa Schiaparelli wearing a jacket of her new magenta colour known as “shocking”

It would be ridiculous to claim that every fashion house founded by a woman cannot be taken over by a man. Guillaume Henry made a good job of refreshing the house of Carven, founded by Madame Carven Mallet in 1945 – even if it was originally one woman’s life story. And now the same designer is taking over at Nina Ricci, started by Maria “Nina” Ricci in 1932. The couture house had a string of designers – all male – appointed by Ricci’s son.

I have no idea of the future plans of Diego Della Valle, the president of Tod’s and owner of Schiaparelli. For all I know, he is signing up some brilliant male designer.

But my advice on finding creative directors for a house founded by a powerful woman who has made her mark on fashion history would be this: cherchez la femme. It means “search for the woman”.

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