‘Psycho chic’ – the reinvention of Schiaparelli
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When the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris opens its Schiaparelli exhibition next week, it faces an odd question: which Schiaparelli will punters come to see? Although the show’s full title – Shocking! The Surreal World of Elsa Schiaparelli – tells us squarely that it celebrates the early 20th-century couturière, rival of Coco Chanel and friend to Man Ray, Cocteau and Dalí, the culture of 2022 might argue that it’s the Schiaparelli reinvented by the 36-year-old Texan designer Daniel Roseberry, the one who has dressed Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, who will be drawing people from the Rue de Rivoli. But if Roseberry thinks that, he’s far too well-mannered to say it.
“I think that most people who love fashion love Elsa,” he says of the woman famed for her lobster-print dress, her “shoe hat”, her jackets embroidered with everything from elephants to insects to grapes, and her brilliantly packaged perfumes (not least the famous Shocking). A cultured, well-connected Roman who first trained with Paul Poiret in Paris, Schiaparelli created a riotous world of her own from the 1920s to the early 1950s, spanning couture, sportswear and accessories; she was also one of the first to use visible zips. Roseberry, in contrast, is sitting in the brand’s HQ in his very white, very minimal, very air-conditioned office overlooking the Place Vendôme. The desk feels alarmingly bare. But his distinct neatness – his crisp facial hair and perfectly fitted double denim, his calm, courteous manner – is undercut by an extra-dry sense of humour.
“She is a fashion-lover’s fashion designer. But…” A little pause. “Most of the people I grew up with, or a lot of people in the States, have really just learned about her, and about the name, in the past year and a half.” Which is a compliment to his own work, right? He offers a sheepish smile. “I think so.”
Roseberry’s Schiaparelli has been snowballing ever since Lady Gaga strode out to sing at President Biden’s inauguration in January 2021 wearing a bespoke navy-and-scarlet gown topped with a gilded dove-of-peace brooch. Weeks later, Beyoncé became the most-awarded singer at the Grammys ever, dressed in a sculptural black leather mini complete with gold-tipped gloves. Four months after that, Bella Hadid shook up Cannes in a simple long black dress with a startling lung-shaped gold breastplate just about covering her skin. And it hasn’t stopped since – from Carey Mulligan to Cardi B, no event now seems complete without a custom Schiaparelli moment.
“Gaga was the game-changer,” confirms Roseberry. “Beyoncé was a complete, momentous, history-making moment, and Bella sealed the deal.” For the stylist Rose Forde, who dressed Jessie Buckley in a boyish suit for this year’s Met Gala, it’s no surprise that artists are drawn to this Schiaparelli. “He’s orbiting that space of art, surrealism, performance, theatrics,” she says. “It’s very exciting and it’s very intelligent.” She also notes that in just three years of collections, Roseberry has defined his aesthetic sharply, whether he’s showing stark monochrome gowns or hyper-coloured matador outfits. “There’s a real consistency in the handwriting – it’s a very definitive point of view.”
Today, Roseberry’s head is turned to another deal-sealing moment: his next couture show, which will be staged in the Musée just two days before the exhibit opens. His creations will be seen in the context of a vast retrospective that will gather some 577 items – 212 silhouettes and accessories complemented by a further 365 paintings, sculptures, jewels, photographs and more, all looking to underline Elsa’s cultural impact. It’s a handy synergy but it wasn’t actually planned. The exhibition was first mooted four and a half years ago, says MAD’s director Olivier Gabet – well before Roseberry’s revamp.
“The house’s renaissance was, shall we say, a little timid back then,” says Gabet. Initially, the chief aim was simply to examine Elsa “as a visionary female designer, really adept at marketing, always looking to work with artists”. But Roseberry’s arrival in 2019 has changed how the show will be seen, not least among the museum’s large young audience (about 25 per cent of the Musée’s visitors are under 26). Roseberry’s work will dot most rooms of the show and have a small “firework display” at the end. Says Gabet: “Now, if the name is known at all, it’s less to do with Elsa, and more to do with what we see of Daniel.”
Schiaparelli 2.0 started when businessman Diego Della Valle, the chief executive of Tod’s Group, bought the house in 2007. Schiaparelli had faded into obscurity even before Elsa died, in 1973, but with the purchase, Della Valle bought back the premises in Paris, started gathering what archive material he could and hired other creative directors, relaunching in full in 2013. None gained much traction, and the brand remained a heritage‑inspired tribute act. When Roseberry joined in 2019, he was fresh from 10 years at Thom Browne: a fierce ascent, Roseberry having dropped out of studying at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology to work there, culminating in his being head of both mens- and womenswear in his early 30s. Putting together his pitch for the Schiaparelli job, he included only a handful of Elsa details in a 70-page project. He has also never read her acclaimed biography.
“I put it down after three pages. And I never want to read it, because I love the fact that my connection with her feels more creative and more intuitive. I never want to be in a position – which I think is the kiss of death – that is an impersonation of her.” (Another book he hasn’t finished: To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara, which he is only halfway through, and which could be more embarrassing as the author is a close friend and dedicated the book to him – “such an amazing and unspeakable gesture”.)
Roseberry once said Elsa had a “barbaric hand”. Would she be flattered by that? “I think she would – because the opposite was her arch-nemesis.” He means Coco Chanel, whose creations were somewhat more practical. “And I think that the barbaric hand is actually what you need right now – that grab-you-by‑the throat kind of thing.” It’s one reason why he thinks the sexy new Schiaparelli resonates today too. “I think that people right now have a unique appetite for things that feel visceral. Everything’s getting more and more intense.” Asking Roseberry whether engineering cultural moments such as Hadid at Cannes matters more, or less, than actually creating the clothes is met with near-incredulity. “We don’t advertise, we don’t pay people to wear our clothes,” he points out. In a social media age, creating the viral moment sits in “parallel with the collections”.
Son of a pastor and a stay-at-home artist mother, and one of four children, the young Daniel wanted to be a Disney animator until attending a wedding, aged 13, inspired him to be a couturier. His love of Disney and pop defines his Americanness at a very European house; he grew up loving the high pomp of Madonna, of Michael and Janet Jackson, while the Disney influence seems even more pronounced: “I still watch those movies all the time.” Just a few weeks before, at the night of the Met Gala, “It was 2.30 in the morning, and I was at the Tom Ford afterparty, and it was a total who’s who. And I was like: you know what? I’m gonna go home and watch a movie. So I went home and rented a Disney film, and did that the entire week – just watching them as a way of self-soothing.” He sighs happily. “I love the fact that instead of going downtown to some dancey, voguey afterparty, I’m in bed watching Frozen.”
Not long ago, he dressed his little sister for her wedding (a bone-embroidered dress, golden eye mask and gold-tipped toe-shaped shoes), and his father made everyone sob by singing “Kiss the Girl” from The Little Mermaid, which he would sing as he got his children out of the bath. “I was destroyed,” says Roseberry. The designer has remained close to his family, despite his sexuality often clashing with their religious beliefs. “I mean, it’s never perfect – and it’s an ongoing journey. But they are wildly supportive.”
Roseberry is still to settle in Paris, having had to leave the alternative “family” he’d grown during his time with Browne in New York. This is good on some level, he says – after a decade with the American designer, he needed a “little deprogramming” – but it also means that in Paris he has had to find out who he is again, both on a personal and professional level. And in the City of Light, “I have not found my people,” he shrugs. “More than the city, that’s the issue.”
Then again, it means that Schiaparelli can be his sole focus. His tenure has clearly been a success so far, although the house is shy of producing official figures. “Since Daniel’s arrival at Schiaparelli, we have created an entirely new ready-to-wear offering that has already developed substantially,” says Delphine Bellini, the house’s CEO. “It has its own completely separate voice to the haute couture line. We are at a very exciting stage of huge demand for ready-to-wear and handbags,” she continues, and the level “far exceeds our targets”. Nonetheless, the Place Vendôme HQ remains the only permanent standalone bricks-and-mortar showcase, alongside an outlet in Bergdorf Goodman.
“We are walking the line between remaining extraordinarily exclusive and capitalising on the desire,” Roseberry argues. “We’re watching luxury become more and more mass-market, and I think the desire is to do something that feels like an antidote to that, and to be the alternative to that.” In this instance, the heritage of the house is an advantage. “I guess that’s why people come here: we already have this foundation, we’re on the Place and we’re a real couture house. I think that’s really poignant right now.”
In terms of sales, the jewellery, bags and tailoring have all done particularly well. “The signature Schiaparelli Face Bijoux bag continues to sell out as soon as stock is replenished,” says Bellini. “We also currently have various waiting lists for a number of iconic pieces, such as the Measuring Tape jacket” – where a tape measure is threaded in gold along the placket of a simple, sharply-cut black jacket. “We call it ‘psycho chic’ – Elsa called it ‘hard chic’,” says Roseberry.
It’s witty as well. That mix of something sophisticated with something “emotional, visceral, humorous sometimes, is really hard to fight”, says Roseberry. “Normally, when you go into surreal kitsch camp, the quality goes down, because the lifespan of that garment feels more transient; and then when you go into ‘forever pieces’, they get really stale and soulless. I think we’re finding a harmony between the two worlds that feels extremely compelling.” His clients, he says, “want something that’s going to make them smile, that’s going to start a conversation. For me, it’s a winning formula.”
Roseberry has danced delicately with the brand’s heritage throughout. The surrealist label, for instance, is both a natural calling card and a potential albatross, even if the artistic movement is suddenly quite hot right now. For his own work, “the key is not to stylise it”. Cocteau, Dalí or Schiaparelli tended to use a stylised line, but after some experimentation Roseberry’s Schiaparelli has gone for the opposite, preferring eerily naturalistic moulds of nipples, toes and fingers. “It became a much more fascinating way to do something that felt surreal – and sort of jarring.’’ For his next couture, though, he “really wanted to see if we could make it Schiaparelli without relying on gold-cast boobs. And I’m really nervous about it, but I think – I hope – we did it.”
Needless to say, his ambitions don’t stop there. “My dream in the next chapter is to be able to say, ‘This is the way a woman paints her face, this is the way she smells, this is the chair she’s sitting in, this is the light,’” he says. “Because I do think it is such a unique niche that we have carved out, and I think it needs to be exploited more.” As ever, he is politely frank about his ambition. It’s perhaps a bit of a Disney question, but is this where he always imagined he’d be? He umms, before telling a favourite story.
“After the Gaga thing, my sister-in-law sent me a picture of someone doing a needlepoint of her dress on a pillowcase. She asked me, ‘Did you ever think that a stay-at-home mom in Wisconsin would be doing needlepoint copies of the dress you designed?’ And I said, ‘To be honest? Yes.’”