A legend is reborn at Schiaparelli

An artful mix of heritage and modernity has made Schiaparelli the hot atelier in Paris once again.

A legend is reborn at Schiaparelli

Perched on a corner of Place Vendôme, above the tourists who flock to this famed Parisian square, you’ll find one of the city’s best-kept secrets: a boutique offering an exquisitely curated selection of clothing and accessories, each piece bearing the label of one of fashion’s most legendary names. Most passersby are unaware of the treasures on the third floor at 21 Place Vendôme. But that is changing.

“To create this jewel box is the starting point of the relaunching of the couture house,” explains Bertrand Guyon, design director of Schiaparelli. “It takes time to rebuild something from scratch, especially after 60 years of absence. But we are in the very place where she used to work.”

“She” is Elsa Schiaparelli, daughter of an Italian scholar, who transported her own curious mind from her native Rome into the fashion arena of 1920s Paris. Schiaparelli’s initial success was in 1927, with knitwear featuring trompe l’oeil details, and her artistic whimsy soon dovetailed with the surrealist movement of the 1930s. Salvador Dalí, Man Ray and Jean Cocteau were among the friends who either influenced or contributed to her work. Dalí in particular was key to Schiaparelli designs still considered iconic, notably her lobster dress and shoe hat, both from 1937. The world’s most stylish women, including Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn, wore her clothes.

With the outbreak of World War II, Schiaparelli decamped to New York. When she returned, she discovered that Christian Dior’s postwar New Look had spirited fashion away from her aesthetic. Schiaparelli closed her atelier in 1954 and lived a quiet life until her death in 1973.

It was Diego Della Valle, founder and president of Italian label Tod’s, who saw the potential of reopening Schiaparelli. He bought the house, including 21 Place Vendôme, in 2006. Della Valle had enjoyed success in 2002 with the revival of French footwear brand Roger Vivier, so why not Schiaparelli? The label relaunched in 2012; Guyon signed on as design director in 2015.

Guyon’s primary focus: balancing modernity with expectations of those elements that define the house’s legacy. “Schiaparelli was not only about surrealism,” he points out. “Her success was broader than that. My take is to move away from this so people can see that Schiaparelli relates to the contemporary woman.” The label has once again attracted the notice of stylish clients, including Tilda Swinton, Kristin Scott Thomas and Thandie Newton.

For his Fall/Winter 2017 haute-couture collection, Guyon explored lightness and femininity: Pleated-tulle gowns seem weightless if not for the flurry of crystals or beading, while one waist detail—a wide red ribbon with crystal buckle—is actually a trompe l’oeil effect, one of several nods to the house’s founder.

Schiaparelli was also passionate about embellishments on the bodice, neckline or shoulder: When a woman was sitting at a restaurant or nightclub, she reasoned, these were the sparkle that might catch someone’s eye. Guyon has updated that idea with a pair of embroidered jackets, each crafted using motifs from the archives. “I keep the original embroidery but create a new jacket with it, so that women of today can wear a great piece mixing the past and the present.”

At 21 Place Vendôme, those jackets reside alongside accessories—costume jewels that include Schiaparelli's iconic pierced heart as a crystal brooch, for example—as well as capsule collection of "prêt-à-couture" pieces. Located on the third floor, Schiaparelli avoids street-level traffic, but all are welcome. Photos of the space aren't publicized, as Guyon prefers to maintain an air of exclusivity.