Legendary Schiaparelli makes comeback at Paris fashion week

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Elsa Schiaparelli, who died in 1973, was among fashion’s most prominent figures between the two world wars and became Coco Chanel’s biggest rival.

A close friend of Salvador Dali, who famously painted the lobster on her 1937 Lobster Dress, she created many surrealist fashion pieces such as the shoe hat, but her label closed down in 1954.

In 2007, Diego Della Valle, head of Italian leather goods company Tod’s, bought the house but it was not until last autumn that a creative director was appointed — Italian designer Marco Zanini.

As such, the Schiaparelli show on January 20 is the most eagerly-awaited event of Paris fashion week.

Will Zanini reserve pride-of-place to Elsa Schiaparelli’s signature shocking pink? Will her eccentric hats, lobster or skeleton dresses be part of the mix?

In July, Schiaparelli had already been given a hero’s welcome by Christian Lacroix, who celebrated the comeback in Paris with a special collection reinterpreting many of the late designer’s influences from fairgrounds and circuses to military uniforms and saris.

In one circus-inspired piece, a pleated symmetric bustier and oversized skirt were teamed with an embroidered clown’s hat.

The dress required 40 metres (130 feet) of silk and 350 hours’ work.

While Schiaparelli’s comeback is expected to be the highlight of the fashion week, other events are also highly anticipated.

Hussein Chalayan, the British designer of Cypriot origin, will showcase his collection for Vionnet, the fashion house created in 1912 by Madeleine Vionnet.

‘More rich women in the world’

And French designer Bouchra Jarrar will also be a highlight. After 20 years working for Balenciaga and Christian Lacroix, she founded her own house in January 2010 and has just been awarded the “haute couture” appellation.

Haute couture exists only in Paris, where it is a legally protected appellation subject to strict criteria such as the amount of work carried out by hand, the limited number of pieces and the size of a house’s workforce.

Altogether, 15 French houses — including Dior and Chanel — have the appellation, and six foreign labels will also put on shows as will 10 guests including Britain’s Ralph & Russo and Belgian designer Serkan Cura.

These houses all employ artisans such as embroiderers or plumassiers — who work with ornamental feathers — to make jaw-dropping dresses for stars who borrow them for the red carpets or for the richest women in the world, who buy them.

Didier Grumbach, head of the French Couture Federation, said the sector had changed but was doing well.

“Today, people don’t only wear couture. A woman will wear pret-a-porter and for a special occasion, will wear couture,” he said.

“But there are more and more rich women in the world, so there are more clients than at the time of Saint Laurent.”

The haute couture section of fashion week kicks off on Sunday, and prior to that, menswear will be showcased for five days, amid more and more interest.

“Three years ago, we had three days of show. Now, we have five,” said Grumbach.

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