“Schiaparelli is full of fantasy, never ordinary, quite distinctive, exclusive” – Bertrand Guyon, Schiaparelli's Creative Director
In conversation with the designer
I n 1927 Elsa Schiaparelli launched her eponymous brand, Schiaparelli. Her vision has transcended time, think the trompe l'oeil sweaters to the infamous lobster dress and now that vision is helmed by Bertrand Guyon. Today as the last look of the FW17 Haute Couture collection for Schiaparelli fades from the runway marking the 90th anniversary of the brand, Buro 24/7 Middle East speaks exclusively to the Creative Director in Paris. "Her legacy makes her one of the very few big names in 20th-century fashion," recalls Guyon. "She is legendary." So is this designer du jour and this is his story...
What is the ultimate signature of Schiaparelli?
Schiaparelli is about a style that is very personal, unique, full of fantasy, slightly alternative, never ordinary, quite distinctive, exclusive, of the utmost quality and with an obsession for detail and service.
What is your vision of the words "haute couture" today?
Haute couture is all the more relevant because each piece is like a prototype, in the sense that each piece is like a laboratory of ideas and savoir-faire. It is relevant and important more than ever because it involves perpetuating craftsmanship that would probably disappear if Haute Couture were not alive anymore. All of these incredible people create embroidery, work with feathers or horsehair, hand crochet at a level of mastery, creativity, inventiveness and modernity that is unparalleled. That is the real beauty of it! Of course, it has to be contemporary to also be relevant. Also, there is what technology can bring to the equation and how both can merge to create something new. They complement each other.
Haute Couture is about the freedom to create truly unique pieces. It is also apart of the culture of mankind. Haute Couture is like an act of resilience.
Since you started designing at Schiaparelli what has changed the most?
A lot has evolved since I joined in April 2015. What I am particularly proud of is that the SS17 collection has met a real audience in terms of clients. It is our most successful collection to date. Women seem to relate to what we do. I feel my approach towards Schiaparelli is slightly different compared to when I joined. I put a certain distance with the archives to get more thoroughly into a form of reality — a reality tainted with fluidity, wearability, and a sense of ease. At the same time, it gets ever more complicated, stressful and challenging. The first seasons, I guess you are quite unconscious about the task. I am more and more demanding with myself.
What motivated to take over the master Haute Couture maison?
When I received the offer, it was totally unexpected. I had never imagined working here but when you know a little bit about the story and the history of Schiaparelli — of the myth of the 20th-century fashion designer — it is simply impossible to turn down.
What made you want to become a fashion designer?
As far as I can remember, I have always wanted to work in fashion. That passion was born when I was about five or six years old. I was already attracted to fashion magazines especially the ones dedicated to Haute Couture. Then, when I was about 15 or 16, I started sketching silhouettes and knew that I would go to fashion school, which would lead me to become a fashion designer. What guides me is the passion for the beautiful, for the well done, well executed, for the savoir-faire of the atelier and the artisans, for the exceptional, for the dream, for the unique...
Your collections are beautiful and wonderfully unique; what inspires you as a designer every season?
Thank you! It is quite difficult to put into words how the process works. It can come from a book, a movie, art... but never literally. It it'll mix in my head and create almost contrary equations that will ignite something. A lot also comes from the fittings. These hours we spend with the atelier team to try and try again, to do and do again... It is an evolutionary path necessary to translate the idea of a sketch into a reality in 3D.
Tell us more about La Robe Homard, the inspiration, the vision, the reaction?
The inspiration was the iconic 1937 lobster dress created by Elsa Schiaparelli in collaboration with Salvador Dali. Wallis Simpson ordered it for her trousseau, when she married the Duke of Windsor - he abdicated the throne of England for her. The Duchess of Windsor wearing the dress became history, thanks to the famous Cecil Beaton pictures. The reaction was quite scandalous too as the placement of the lobster, juxtaposed against the white dress worn, by an American divorcee, triggered controversy.
As for me, I wanted to wait before giving my own version of the dress. After two years at Schiaparelli, I felt it was the moment to create a contemporary interpretation using a different technique — here embroidered applications — and other colours. It worked perfectly in the theme of the season.
Today, you dress so many celebrities around the world, what is the most beautiful part of dressing these women?
To meet an actress is always moving and surreal. Some of the actresses we have had the chance to dress include Kirsten Dunst, Tilda Swinton and Kristin Scott Thomas. They embody the dress fully yet differently. They make it their own, which is quite fascinating.
How would you describe le rose shocking?
It is this incomparable shade of pink that feels like life. You find a shocking pink look in every collection that is like the backbone of the show. Even though Elsa Schiaparelli invented shocking pink, she did not necessarily use it in every single collection. But, my intention is to have this as a leitmotiv each season as it is one of the most iconic symbols of Schiaparelli.
Who is the Schiaparelli woman?
The Schiaparelli woman is elegant. She knows how to dress. Her taste reflects her strong personality. She is active. She travels. She likes people to notice that she does not wear something plain but something that has a certain poise and allure.
How many stores and flagships do you have around the world today?
Only one! Our boutique salon is located at 21 Place Vendôme, Paris. This is truly unique!
Your favourite colour?
I love all colours. But, I really love all shades of blue.
Your favourite fabrics?
I love light fabrics such as silk chiffon but I also love fabrics with a certain density such as wool.
What is the best part of your job today?
Sketching and fittings.
What does luxury mean to you?
Time is the ultimate luxury, the possibility of taking time to be on your own. It is a real privilege to be able be on your own and feel happy about it.
What do you think of the Middle Eastern market?
I am truly fascinated by the Middle Eastern culture and art de vivre. I love the decoration. For instance, my house in Spain is very much inspired by the oriental lifestyle. I enjoy the beauty of the colours and the richness of the materials. Even though I have not seen it in real life, I love the contemporary architecture of the region. It is definitely part of my aesthetics!
Now, discover the Schiaparelli Haute Couture Fall/Winter '17 collection now.