There’s nothing that excites the fashion world more than the appointment of a new creative director at a major house. Expectations run high and excitement rises to fever pitch as design lovers, retailers and press alike anticipate what is to come. Two notable and very diverse recent announcements promise great collections ahead and a buzzing spring season in the French capital.
Changing of the fashion guard
First came the news that quietly spoken Italian Marco Zanini, the creative director who spearheaded the resurrection of Rochas, would be taking the helm at Schiaparelli and second, it was announced that fashion’s favourite avant-garde designer, Nicolas Ghesquière, would assume the creative direction of Louis Vuitton, following the departure of Marc Jacobs. Zanini and Ghesquière have wildly different aesthetics but they share a love of rigorous design and a desire to move forward the boundaries of beauty and taste.
The house of Schiaparelli, founded by Elsa Schiaparelli, which had lain dormant for decades, was purchased by Diego Della Valle’s Tod’s Group in the early noughties. Zanini will have a vivid history and impressive archive to immerse himself within. The Italian-born, Paris-dwelling designer Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the most influential couturiers of the early 20th century and forged unique collaborative links with the era’s surrealist artists, including Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau and Alberto Giacometti.
The highly educated Schiaparelli – known as Schiap – began her career by making her own outfits. Then came a small collection of knitwear. She soon became known for witty embellishments, sometimes created by master embroiderer François Lesage, on tailored suits, and surreal trompe l’oeil effects such as her Lobster dress (1937), painted by Dalí. Schiap’s arresting, provocative designs challenged the status quo. Her perfume, encased in fuchsia pink, was named Shocking.
Zanini’s appointment is timely. Schiaparelli’s work has garnered a new generation of fans following the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2012 exhibition Impossible Conversations, created in collaboration with Miuccia Prada, an ardent admirer of Schiap’s work. During his tenure at Rochas, Zanini similarly inspired emotion and challenged taste with his love of offbeat colourways and extraordinary fabrics. As an Italian, he humbly says that he has ‘a special affinity for the house.’
For Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton, the task is to take the powerhouse brand, founded as a trunk-maker in Paris in the late 19th century, to new levels. Marc Jacobs injected the house with wit, elegance and style and created ready-to-wear collections for the first time. The Paris Louis Vuitton shows, grand and imaginatively theatrical (carousels, escalators, train stations all featured in the immaculately conceived sets) became the toast of fashion week, while the accessories featuring the house’s Damier check canvas became status symbols across the globe.
Louis Vuitton shops have opened up in the furthest reaches of the world, including Ulan Bator, capital of Mongolia. Travel is in the DNA of Louis Vuitton and that can be interpreted both imaginatively and literally. Ghesquière, a designer who brilliantly resurrected the house of Balenciaga, will no doubt work his magic on Louis Vuitton, re-energising its allure for the future. Fashion, after all, is about the power of re-invention.