French designer Christian Lacroix, who filed for bankruptcy in 2009, will design a one-off 15 piece couture collection for the house of Schiaparelli, according to this article on the Vogue UK website. It doesn’t seem that Lacroix will have a permanent role, which is quite worrying because Diego Della Valle (CEO of Tod’s, who bought the rights to Schiaparelli in 2006) has already taken several months to decide on an artistic director. Reports say that Marco Zanini, who designs for Rochas, has been approached for the position.
There are already a few alarms ringing in my head. I see this collaboration as a symbolic gesture more than anything else, a nod to French fashion and therefore to French culture as a whole. Christian Lacroix is a creative genius and his vibrant baroque-inspired designs are just as captivating today as they were in the 90s (the perfect antidote to minimalism), but his company, which LVMH helped set up, never turned a profit in its 22 years of operation. Moreover, he’s designing haute couture which is notoriously unprofitable. This collaboration probably won’t be lucrative (but it will get a lot of press), and if we also remember that the house of Schiaparelli has lain dormant since 1954 then it’s hard to imagine that this re-launch will be commercially viable in the long term.
I also remember some discussion regarding the name. ‘Schiaparelli’ is a very mellifluous word and looks beautiful in print, but it’s also one of those names that could be quite problematic in a modern commercial setting. It’s not easy to pronounce, least of all for rich Asian clients, and I think the owner considered changing it to simply ‘Schiap’ at one point. That’s what the founder’s friends nicknamed her. If Christian Lacroix ever accepts a permanent role at the house, he won’t be able to call it ‘Schiap (let’s pretend) by Christian Lacroix’ because he hasn’t been authorized to use his own name since the company was reduced to a licensing operation. This was the case when he designed a small collection for the Spanish brand Desigual in 2011 and had to use “Monsieur C. Lacroix” for legal purposes.
However, there are larger questions to contemplate. Why put so much effort into re-launching a brand that was closed years ago? Why spend millions of dollars acquiring the rights to a company that is seldom mentioned outside history books anymore? Furthermore, The Daily Telegraph’s fashion editor, Lisa Armstrong, writes that Schiaparelli did not leave strong legacies like Chanel with tweed, Dior with the New Look, or Balenciaga with bulbous shapes. And if she did, the remains have since been dismantled and diluted by contemporary designers appropriating her vision for their own collections: “The perfume bottle shaped like a woman’s torso? Jean Paul Gaultier made that his own aeons ago. Lobster-shaped hats? Don’t you think of Phillip Treacy? Fin-like collars? McQueen. Broad‑brush visual jokes? Moschino”.
So why even bother with Schiaparelli anymore? The best fashion schools in the world are offering new talent every year, and any one of the graduates would be ecstatic to work with an investor. They are young, fresh, and talented, which is everything the fashion industry seems to pride itself on. Liroy Choufan published an article on Business of Fashion answering this very same question, and he asserts that the answer comes down to one word: authenticity. Fashion houses that have history also have credibility. Credibility is not about which A-list actress likes her new handbag; credibility is about a brand’s place in history, its origins, and its location. Think about all the brands that pride themselves on authentic history and location (which typically comes back to Paris): Hermes, Chanel, Balenciaga, Dior, Givenchy, etc. It’s actually a crime to supply or purchase fake bags in France, punishable by a fine or imprisonment. I’m not sure how strict authorities are with enforcing that law, but the fact that it even exists says a lot about how fashion-obsessed French people are.
And although Diego Della Valle is CEO of an Italian company, this latest installment in the Schiaparelli saga oozes with French-ness. Christian Lacroix is a French designer, and the French courts tried to save the Lacroix brand before it was too late. Americans don’t care about their fashion legacies the way the French do (just look at the mess that Halston has become). Schiaparelli, though born in Italy, established her business in Paris and was considered to be Chanel’s greatest rival. And haute couture…well, an English person may have given birth to the concept, but the city of Paris breathed life into the craft.