August 30 2014

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Christian Lacroix Talks Schiaparelli


Finally, something’s happening at Schiaparelli. After the house’s current owner, Diego Della Valle, announced his plans to reopen the storied maison last year, there had been no news about a creative director, or even a launch date. Until yesterday, when it was revealed that the Schiap revival is set for July, with a fifteen-piece capsule collection of Couture by Christian Lacroix. The 61-year-old, Paris-based couturier’s homage to Schiaparelli—which will go on display in her original salon at 21 Place Vendôme—will be the first in an annual series of collaborations in which artists will interpret the iconic designer’s wares. The house’s permanent creative director, however, has yet to be named. Here, Lacroix, who has largely been working on costume projects for operas and ballets around the globe since his departure from the couture catwalk in 2009, discusses the Schiaparelli revival and his forthcoming collection.

Schiaparelli is a legend, yet also mysterious; you referred to her as a sphinx. Are you at all intimidated by the undertaking?
This will perhaps sound pretentious, but this seems natural to me, almost obvious—let’s say logical. I do feel a link with her through many signs since I was a child. I’ll face her glance on a portrait and try to guess what she thinks…and I’ll tell you yes, she’s goddamned intimidating!

How did Mr. Della Valle approach you for this project?
We have known each other for more than thirty years. [We met] when I was working for Guy Paulin and Byblos in Italy. Later, he made my first shoes for the first Lacroix ready-to-wear show. And we have friends and collaborators in common.

Why were you drawn to this collaboration?
I’ve adored Schiap since my childhood. This kind of project that falls in between the history of costume and fashion was impossible for me to refuse [particularly because] I planned to be a fashion museum curator and became a stage designer after twenty-five years of couture.

Do you see any similarities between your and Schiaparelli’s aesthetics?
Of course I was very inspired by her work, mixing past and modernity, high and low, elegance and eccentricity. We are both Mediterranean characters inspired by Paris’ special flavor and style.

While many are excited to see new life breathed into Elsa Schiaparelli’s house, some are wary of the revival and feel her legacy should be left untouched. What is your response to this and what are your feelings on the revival?
When you enter 21 Place Vendôme, the place which never stopped being “her” home since the thirties, you feel something alive, far from nostalgia. Everything screams, “I’m still here, alive.” I think this is good timing and momentum [as long as] we don’t copy her but try to extract the quintessence of her style. Her heritage is too often reduced and simplified to only the crazy, surrealistic, and caricatural side of her clothes. [People] ignore how close to the practical, modern, pure aspect of a wardrobe she was, especially during the war. We have to epitomize this image of her.

How do you plan to embrace the Schiaparelli spirit without making the designs look costumey? How will you modernize Schiaparelli’s vision?
By listening to her own voice. This is not a musical about her life, with Beaton-esque costumes, but an exercise of how her French-American (much more than Italian) style—clever clothes with a twist of spirit—is close to nowadays’ needs and approach.

What about this project most excites you?
I just signed and have not begun designing, but let’s say that I’m excited to not provide what everybody is waiting for—a caricature—but a reflection about past and future connected in the present.

What is your favorite Schiaparelli design?
Probably something plain and black with a precious detail.

How does it feel to return to designing couture?

Do you have any plans to continue this partnership in the future?
No, that’s clear. Next year’s homage might be a ballet, a novel, or a movie, and the house is about to name a creative director. I’d have too many stage, design, or curating projects to be free for this. At the moment, I’m still working on many curating and scenography projects, three operas, and three hotels. I’m in fittings for Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers at the Opéra National du Rhin in Strasbourg, and sketching for Wagner’s Lohengrin in Austria. Right now, I’m in Arles for a wide scenography in Montmajour Abbey, with pieces of glass from Bob Wilson, Ettore Sottsass, Jana Sterbak, et cetera, along with contemporary installations, paintings, and photos. Then I’m doing a Balanchine ballet revival at Paris Garnier Opera, and projects for Comédie Française and Opera Comique, Christoph Willibald Gluck’s [opera] Ezio in Francfort, Traviata in Tokyo, Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny in Berlin, and so on.

Photo: Thierry Zoccolan / AFP / Getty Images