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

Two Of A Kind: Bouquet Dresses

How many women love to be arranged in a bunch of flowers? Enough, probably, to prompt designers to turn dresses into vases

Nosegay or bouquet? (Left) Schiaparelli couture autumn/winter 2022 by Daniel Roseberry. Photo: Schiaparelli. And (right) Moschino prêt-à–porter spring/summer 2018 by Jeremy Scott. Photo: Indigital.tv

We know which among the above two came first, but perhaps that does not matter. Flowers have always bloomed in the creations of fashion designers at both the haute couture and prêt-à–porter. They go back even before the first couturier. And this attests to their versatility, even if their use risks being hackneyed, even tawdry. But fashion and flowers are soul mates; both are seasonal and both are about appearances—outwardly too. At the recent Schiaparelli couture presentation, the flowers with their stalks that worked their way from the velvet bust upwards, into an asymmetric spray that partly flanked the face (among other floristic pieces) was also more surface than substance. Daniel Roseberry was inspired by the images from Carolyne Roehm’ book A Passion for Flowers. He told WWD that he hope’d to evoke “creative innocence” with the floral arrangement. It is not immediately discernible.

Some four years ago, Jeremy Scott put together a bouquet of a dress for Moschino. Gigi Hadid wore the beribboned, wrapped-up stalks on the runway, with her head placed among colourful mixed blooms as if it flowered among the bunch. In sum, she looked very much like the tall, dramatic bouquets beauty entrepreneur Kim Lim would like to receive—any day. There is a sense of humour in Ms Hadid attired as a giant hand-held arrangement, even if it was the incongruity that arouse the amusement. And therein, we sense, lies the creative point: irreverence. Mr Roseberry had hoped to effect “innocence”, but his floral formation was not quite absent of guile; it was rather studied. The wholesome side of high fashion to counter the exposed breasts he showed earlier? Sure, his flowers were all coutured-up: hand-painted, 3-D tulips, made brilliant with rhinestone, but were they sumptuous, let alone Shocking!—the name of the new Schiaparelli exhibition to open in Paris?

It is interesting that the two men who have worked floral arrangement into their designs hail from America. It seems that this could be American designers-in-Europe’s belated expression of floristic exuberance. But blooms for the body is not terribly new. There was the Yves Saint Laurent’s couture flowered bikini-as-bridal-wear from 1999 or Alexander McQueen’s gown from 2007, festooned with real fleurs. Even the guys could not escape being adorned, or garlanded. In the spring 2020 season, Virgil Abloh placed one wreath as sort of abbreviated vest atop a T-shirt for one of his last showings for Louis Vuitton, clearly an ornamental touch, as much as one to soften the masculine nothingness of the look. But these were not quite enough, and some designers are now allowing the dress to be a receptacle in which flowers can sprout forth. The Chinese have a saying: 花无百日红 or no flower blooms for a hundred days—good times, as well as the florid, do not last long. Pessimistic? Ask some flowers.

One Colour Each

Tone-on-tone is the chromatic choice among the women attending yesterday’s US presidential inauguration

Topcoat day: (from left) Jil Biden, Kamala Harris, Michelle Obamam, and Jennifer Lopez. Photos: Getty Images

It looks like the women attending the inauguration of the 46th US president Joe Biden received the memo: go in a single colour. And wear a topcoat. That’s certainly the case with the office-holders and high-profile women who attended the Washington DC event. Could they have also been inspired by one of the key trends at the recently concluded Milan Men’s Fashion Week—monotone? Or, is a single colour a lot easier to deal with than coordinating with different colours and prints? National-level political events are probably not the time to take a gamble with fashion. Staying safe in a single colour not considered challenging (or worse, controversial) is the best strategy. Few women have the sartorial guts of Lady gaga, who sang the national anthem in a custom-designed Schiaparelli (by Texan Daniel Roseberry, for those nationalistic fashion watchers!) of fitted, navy, wool, lapel-less jacket and froth of red silk-faille skirt. Oh, there was also that distracting gold dove.

Peace may have been on Lady Gaga’s mind, but unity seemed to be on the other women’s. A single colour is perhaps an unambiguous message about how good it looks to be united. As the president himself said, “without unity, there’s no peace.” And to show unanimous support for America (or to express national pride?), they wore American designers, all largely unknown, at least outside the US. Jill Biden wore Makarian, the four-year-old New York label by Alexandra O’Neill; Kamala Harris wore Christopher John Rogers, the New York-based black designer-du-jour, who founded his eponymous label in 2016; Michele Obama wore Sergio Hudson, another black designer, whose seven-year-old label had a kick start at Bravo channel’s Styled to Rock, the reality fashion TV, executive-produced by Rihanna. Well, except for Jennifer Lopez, who sang in, surprisingly, total Chanel.

Outgoing FLOTUS Melania Trump, too, was in a single colour. But it surprised no one that the one-term Slovenia-born first lady emerged from the White House for the final time in not a shred of designed- or made-in-America. She was in telling, mourning black—the separates comprised a Chanel jacket and a Dolce & Gabbana dress. It was a silhouette that was similar to the Ralph Lauren suit that she wore to her husband’s inauguration four years ago. But now that she no longer needed to show that she supported American labels (not that she really did; the relationship was mutual), it was back to her usual enthusiastic nod for her favourite European brands. Towards the end, as with everything Trump, disconnected she happily stood.

Some Schiaparelli Sketches

The haute couture season opened up with nymphs in need of gowns, but elsewhere, at the house that Elsa built, its designer was just quietly sketching away



Perhaps they did not have enough time to prepare the clothes or enough money to make them. So they put on the Schiaparelli website a video of designer Daniel Roseberry (above) sketching in Washington Square Park in Manhattan, New York City. A straightforward presentation without magic or myth, nor bells and whistles in the homepage for those interested to uncover more. No concurrent video-post on Youtube to explain why he did what he did either. Just old-fashioned drawings, emerging from sweeping hands and deft strokes. A designer and his vision on paper.

It would seem that, due to unprecedented circumstances, the American designer has to remain in the city. The video shows him getting masked up before walking to the 150-year-old park through deserted streets. He finds a wooden bench and sits down to sketch. Before he picks a pen, he removes his mask. The video also shows snippets of him in a studio (or, perhaps, his home), and snatches of his inspiration, which include old photographs of the work of Elsa Schiaparelli herself. The video ends with a close-up of the sketches. There are not clothes.


It’s hard to determine how good the collection is, based on a dozen or so of admittedly good sketches (31 of them was eventually shared with Vogue.com). Or imagine how haute couture can take shape without an atelier and without the metiers. This is Mr Roseberry’s third haute couture collection for Schiaparelli. A Thom Browne alum, he has a predilection for dramatic shapes that recall high fashion of another era. The humour and irreverence so much associated with the house have not been evident. But asymmetry, draping, and poufs that sync with the perception of French fashion are.

Mr Roseberry calls his delineations “couture imaginaire”. If we imagine what the sketches would be like as real clothes, they would be dramatic and would elicit the social-media description, “stunning”. These are imaginative designs, with a spirit of the haute that has been slowly easing out of couture. But would they attract a clientele at a time when even imagination can’t show us what the months ahead would be like?

Screen grabs: Schiaparelli