Bertrand Guyon, Haute Couture, and the Rebirth of Schiaparelli

Courtesy of Schiaparelli
Courtesy of Schiaparelli

Haute Couture remains the purest form of fashion expression. While ready-to-wear collections continue to grow, and buying habits change, couturiers maintain two collections a year—Haute Couture takes time to create and we’re more than happy to wait.

Without question, iconic designer Elsa Schiaparelli was instrumental in pushing fashion forward. From her innovative designs, ranging from the first power suit and collaborations with artists Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau, Schiaparelli fundamentally changed the couture landscape. But, in 1954, the designer decided to close the atelier to focus on writing her autobiography. It wasn’t until 2012 that the house was reopened.

To revive the spirit of Schiaparelli, Bertrand Guyon, formerly of Givenchy and Alexander McQueen, was appointed design director in 2015, and since then, the house has found renewed energy.  The fall 2016 collection, Guyon’s third, took design cues from Schiaparelli’s iconic 1938 Circus collection—the first ever thematic collection in the early 1930s.  The result was delightfully eccentric and deeply loyal, all while paying homage to the house’s historic impact on the industry we know today.

Here, Guyon discusses surrealism, modernizing the Schiaparelli woman, and why couture is perhaps more relevant than ever.

Courtesy of Schiaparelli
Courtesy of Schiaparelli

S/: In your collections, how do you interpret archival house codes and make them relevant for present day?

Bertrand Guyon: I looked a lot at the archives. But then, I distanced myself a lot a afterwards. Anything from a colour, to a detail in the cut, a print, a texture, an acces- sory or anything else may inspire something today. This season, I decided to focus strongly on shoulder lines, which is something Elsa Schiaparelli was known for.

She somehow invented the power suit. The research we did this season was truly inspired by what Schiaparelli did in the 1930s with tailoring. However, nothing in this collection is a literal interpretation or an original redone today. For instance, the dark suits and dresses at the beginning of the show with their graphic shapes and dry materials are clearly something for a modern woman.

S/: Schiaparelli is synonymous with subversiveness and surrealism. How do you find a balance between being bold and whimsical while remaining elegant and wearable?

BG: It is indeed a very subtle balance. Surrealism is also something that is always associated with Schiaparelli. However, she truly only did a few things that could be qualified as a nod to surrealism. Even though this season’s collection didn’t have a surrealistic inspiration, many journalists wrote that it was. If people want to look for something slightly surrealistic, it is found in the way we play with the codes of the house such as the pierced heart, the padlock, the eye or the lips. But, this is only a small part of the collection. One example is the black tuxedo jumpsuit with the hammered gold lips. This is a way to twist a simple chic black outfit with this special Schiaparelli  flavour.

S/: Did you have any artists or inspirations on your mood board when designing this collection?

BG: Sarah Moon (I love her photography and her [use of] light….), Ugo Rondinone (for his atmosphere and his way of approaching colours), Annette Messager (she was not on the moodboard but I was still thinking about her work when designing the collection), Allen Jones (I love that erotic/sexy/ subversive aspect, but it’s always elegant and chic), André Brasilier, and Federico Fellini (his world, his aesthetics, and the soundtrack of his movies).

S/: What does Haute Couture represent to you?

BG: Haute Couture is a real business, small but real. We have clients – some loyal and some new ones – who come to Paris to order pieces of the collection. Haute Couture is also an industry: it gives work to artisans (embroiderers, jewellery makers, feather-makers, etc…) whose knowledge and skill is priceless. It is a tradition of the beautiful, of the exceptional that we need to preserve. It is also somehow a way to counterbalance sometimes terrible news or gloomy headlines. Haute Couture is something truly based on human beings, individual craft and creativity (with traditional techniques and/or high-tech innovations). The notion of time is also crucial: We live in a world that goes so fast that it is quite satisfying to find a place where you can still take time to nurture things.