When The Lion’s Head is Larger Than The Model’s

Schiaparelli tames the beast to lay its head on the wearer’s shoulder

The big cat is not the one we see during Chinese New Year, when lion dance troupes visit mostly businesses to perform the ritual of caiqing (採青 or plucking the greens). Or at the Chingay parade. Rather, at the spring couture 2023 show of Schiaparelli, it appeared as what could easily be the head of Aslan, the slow-talking King of Beast in Narnia (particularly the 2005 film version). Or, something that could be a product of skillful taxidermy. Before even the start of the show, guest Kylie Jenner showed up with the same lion’s head on the same black gown. When the picture of her in said outfit made the expected social media rounds, Netizens were outraged, accusing Schiaparelli of “promoting trophy hunting”, only now the part of the (hunted) animal not displayed on walls, but on a body, worn like a brooch. The house was quick to say that no animal was used in the making of the head of the beast. It was, in fact, the result of embroidery. Realistic, as it turned out, is sometimes not quite a good thing. Ms Jenner did not say how the lion’s head made her feel or if she paid for the dress.

Apart from the majestic panthera leo’s head (on Irina Shayk), there were those of a leopard (on Sharlom Harlow) and a she-wolf (on the she-wolf herself, Naomi Campbell), too. Rather than saying something about the jungle or wildlife or animal welfare, these embroidered bodiless creatures spoke for Dante’s Inferno from the 14th century poem The Divine Comedy. They represented pride, lust, and avarice respectively. The story’s Dante was supposed to avoid these three beasts, according to Virgil, the Roman poet, who appeared before protagonist in the first canto of the poem. Conversely, Schiaparelli’s Daniel Roseberry approached them head-on, showing off the technical ability of the house and their collaborators to create the animals’ heads that were nearly indistinguishable from real-life. We, not Dante, can now come face to face with the animals to see that the “faux” taxidermic output is hand-sculpted from foam and resin, and then embroidered with wool and silk faux fur. In couture, designers would go to all lengths.

Take away the fake heads, did the gowns say anything? Would the dress look good without the animal part? Can she sit at the dining table and eat? Can it be removed? And how does one put the outfit away in a home without a museum’s storage facility? Ms Jenner probably does not care about where she keeps the gown after she has worn it. It is about now, the very moment that she aroused the world’s attention. Why would she bother about the outfit’s fate thereafter? Couture does not concern itself with the inconveniences resulting from use and wear when what matter most are the difficulty of execution and the man hours (or, collectively, the “enormity of workmanship”, as Susie Menkes described Schiaparelli) that can be brought to he forefront, or on the red carpet. Mr Roseberry has taken surrealism quite close to his heart. Each collection must be surrealistic in terms of how hard it is and how long it takes to execute the ideas for a dress. In the past, the surrealism employed on the Schiaparelli garment articulated a sense of witticism too. We do not see that in Mr Roseberry’s work. If the dramatic flourishes are kept down, would Schiaparelli be still considered couture-spectacular?

But the business is dependent on those customers who do not come for heads of any kind, worn to complete with the wearer’s very own head. So Mr Roseberry sent out neat, wearable (couture has a different definition for that) outfits that played on proportion and exaggeration, both to varying degrees of success and appeal. That broad shoulders had to be included at a time when they should be retired perhaps suggested his limited repertoire when reimagining the shapes that can be imagined to clothe the body. He seemed to prefer top/front-heavy looks too, sending out a trio of bodices that were rigid and high and sight-of-wearer-obscuring and another other (he preferred ideas to come in threes?) with ridiculous pointed sides that aimed skywards like spires of church towers. And that finale mini-dress and accompanying oversized wrap: in duchess satin and puckered-hem glory. Was it included at the eleventh hour to yield a total of looks in even numbers—32? We wish we would could like the collection more.

Screen shot and photos: Schiaparelli