A more subdued celebration of the circus, against a backdrop of harlequin colours
The wall was papered with the patterns of Picasso's harlequins. The dresses were decorated with designs from Salvador Dalí. But the message from Schiaparelli this season is the rebirth of its couture.
Design Director Bertrand Guyon looked back to the Surrealist brand's heyday, and particularly Schiap's Circus Collection of 1938. But sharp tailoring, soft dresses and intense craftsmanship made the clothes seem modern.
Like actress Laura Carmichael — Lady Edith in Downton Abbey, now sat front row in a short Schiap summerdress — the designer has the ability to be immersed in a brand's history but also make it seem current. Especially if you like jesters' fancy pants.
"After two collections, I wanted to do the Circus - but it is not so literal, it's more about craft," said Bertrand, admitting that the idea of the 'sad clown' had inspired his use of black and Schiap's favourite navy.
The moodboards backstage showed many inspirations, from Toulouse-Lautrec paintings to those clowns. But it was as if the historic subjects had sunk into a bowl of water with only elements floating on top: hence the Dalí eye as just a brooch on a black suit; or the constellations — and even an embroidered peacock — under control.
Sharp tailoring brought the brand’s historic exuberance up to date
It was a pleasure to see Schiap's sunburst cloak, which so fascinated Yves Saint Laurent, now played by Bertrand as bold decoration on a plain jacket. And it is not hard to understand why so many celebrities at recent events have chosen this brand as a purveyor of elegant clothes with a witty twist.
Significantly Diego Della Valle, who bought the house of Schiaparelli nine years ago and finally has it on track, told me he is aiming to expand the brand's reach with three ateliers across the world — and also to create a 'demi-couture' range for private clients.
Intense craftsmanship was enhanced by witty details
"I believe there is a place for this," the executive said, when questioned in a courtyard where the doorway was bright with Schiap's signature shocking-pink flowers. It may have been a long haul but there is no doubt, after this fine collection, that Bertrand Guyon can resuscitate brand Schiap.
Ulyana Sergeenko: Soviet thaw
From the moment I stepped backstage, I knew that there was something different about Ulyana Sergeenko's show, for her hair was cropped into a mannish bowl. Even though she then told me that it was a wig, I could sniff the difference between her former romantic vision of Russian women, and what she called in her show notes 'Khruschev's Thaw'.
So the models were dressed to stride out in a new Soviet world of lean, sporty clothes, from bodysuits to mini-skirts, topped off with space-rocket helmets — as interpreted by the incomparable milliner Stephen Jones.
Nevertheless, Ulyana could not quite leave behind her wistful vision of the vast Russian countryside, which delivered floral patterns and fur coats with with a splash of colour burrowed deep.
Models stepped out into a brave new world, crowned by space race helmets
I admired the collection more when Ulyana explained her concept. "It's a tribute to the dreams of our parents, to their youth and its new character," the designer said.
"Think of a young and very intelligent girl from the Soviet past. We're told it was a very different generation because they didn't care about money, they just wanted to make their country better. Not just better — the best country in the world."
Lean and severe bodysuits were tempered by colourful native furs
It was clear that, for the designer, this show was personal as she talked about her mother, a teacher, and how the first model that walked out came from her own native roots in Kazakhstan.
I regretted that Ulyana's fashion storytelling had taken a less romantic route. But I admire her eagerness to push forward on her own, and her country's, dreams.
Some looks matched futuristic fabrics with a more romantic vision of the Soviet Union’s past