Bertrand Guyon: ‘I had never imagined working for Schiaparelli’

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The sensual Schiaparelli Fall Haute Couture collection is an homage to the strong, creative women who lived between the two world wars. Including Elsa Schiaparelli herself, who started her couture house in 1927. “She belonged to that generation of free women. You see it in how she led her life, completely independent”, says Schiaparelli design director Bertrand Guyon.

 What else did you learn from Elsa Schiaparelli (1890 – 1973)?

“When starting at Schiaparelli in April 2015, I knew very little about her. The reason for this is probably that I had never ever imagined working for the house.

Elsa definitely taught me an appetite for freedom of expression and freedom of spirit. She was a really independent person. She belonged to that generation of free women. You see it in how she led her life, completely independent. She was a businesswoman, she was creative and she was a mother. All by herself, with no help. Her art and her fashion are very much imbued with freedom. But, she was aware it was a real job in the sense that she wanted to dress women in real garments, not in costumes. Even when her designs were more extreme - often as the result of a collaboration with an artist - it remained chic.”

Can you tell something about The Crystal² dress?

“The mesh fabric was cut in patches in three different colors of gold. Instead of sewing the mesh, each rectangle is patched together using the casting technique like in high jewelry. After this the mesh was embroidered with geometrical motifs with big crystals for a 3D effect. The idea of the embroidery was to give depth to the patchwork composition - like the composition of a painting. The padlock motif is a nod to one of the iconic symbols of Elsa Schiaparelli.”

That padlock, the color Shocking Pink and the lobster are typical Schiaparelli elements. How important is it to keep adding those elements in your collections for Schiaparelli?

“I feel that I have fully established the Shocking Pink as the true Schiaparelli color for fashion. If you look at older Schiaparelli collections, Shocking Pink was not always present, and if used, not necessarily on many outfits or in full looks. The color Shocking Pink was mostly applied for Schiaparelli fragrances and cosmetics activities together with the packaging of licenses. When I joined Schiaparelli I decided to always have one Shocking Pink look in the collection. Now, after five collections, I can only acknowledge the fact that women seem to relate to it, from actresses to clients - and also some other brands!

Somehow, one has to assert and re-assert some elements in order to get them through. Let’s not forget that outside the fashion world, very few know about all these elements. In case of the lobster, Schiaparelli only used it once in her famous Lobster dress, a collaboration with Dalí. I have prominently and deliberately used the lobster a few times to create an impact around the lobster and Schiaparelli. Regardless of people liking a lobster outfit or not, it will strengthen the association between the motif and Schiaparelli. Not many fashion houses have such lexicon with typical elements that are truly part of its legacy.”

How does it feel to be surrounded everyday with all those beautiful materials?

“It is an immense privilege, but actually I don’t really think about it when working. On the other hand, working on Haute Couture does not only mean working with rich and valuable materials. The collection also contains vinyl, plastic and tulle. When worked on by the expert hands of our atelier, these materials become just as precious as silks and brocades.

It would be wrong to think that couturiers only work with or are only searching for the rarest or most beautiful materials. Think of Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1920s and 1930s! For instance, a pleated fabric can only remain pleated if it contains polyester. If not, it will never hold its pleating. A fabric can be stunning even if it’s part polyester.”

Can you explain what kind of techniques you used in this collection? 

“This season we used many classic Haute Couture techniques, from pleating to ruching, to tulle and gauze that through elaborate layering created new motifs; a new way of playing with transparency. We also showed a look with an embroidery of iridescent molded vinyl arabesques as an alternative way to create a classical motif. Also unique is a white dress that shows a transparent embroidery of clear vinyl and rhodoïd paillettes, beads and white resin tubes. All of the glass earrings were hand-blown.” 

What a wealth and what a contradiction to the nowadays so popular denim and jersey.

“People have been wearing jeans and T-shirts for decades. Comfort is highly praised since the sixties. It stands for an idea of contemporary fashion in general. When I observe young girls, they all look exactly the same. It’s the group effect. They are their own mirror. No one dares to distinguish herself from the group. However, we know they will not dress like that forever. Over the years, they will know themselves better. Hence, a proper look will emerge.”

Photography by Ferry van de Nat. Makeup: Judith Neyens for Chanel @NCL Representation. Hair: Daan Kneppers Biolage R.A.W. @NCL Representation for Model: Ilya @Paparazzi Model Management.

Ilya wears The Crystal ² tunic dress with clusters of multi-colored crystals. The dress is a collaboration between Schiaparelli and Swarovski. Inspired by the geometric work of one of Bertrand Guyons favorite artists: Sophie Taeuber-Arp.