There are too many highlights to list here. There are the instantly recognisable creations: the lobster dress and shoe hat, made with Salvador Dalí or the pieces featuring embroideries from Jean Cocteau illustrations; the wondrous selection of sculpted buttons, many conceived by Jean Schlumberger, Elsa Triolet and Alberto Giacometti; the thematic collections – from Pagan to Circus; and even the trompe l’oeil knits that were at once wearable and original for their time. We discover her from many angles: through striking portraits by Man Ray, through her illustrations and even through her selection of Jean Michel-Frank furniture in her atelier at 21 Place Vendome. But Shocking! The Surreal World of Elsa Schiaparelli, which opens on July 6 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, also extends beyond her world to the designers and couturiers who have paid tributed to her over the decades including Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix, John Galliano, Azzedine Alaïa, Sonia Rykiel. And while the spotlight shines on Elsa, the awe-inspiring designs from Daniel Roseberry are presented throughout the retrospective in ways that underscore how the Schiaparelli heritage has been magnificently revived.
While the discussions for the exhibition began before Roseberry’s arrival in 2019, the extraordinary visibility he has brought to the Maison through cultural and historical moments – think Lady Gaga at President Joe Biden’s inauguration or Beyoncé at last year’s Grammys – has created a more modern positioning of the Schiaparelli story. This, in turn, will resonate with a new generation of fans and longtime admirers of her avant-garde vision. During a visit ahead of the opening, Roseberry and museum director Olivier Gabet provide some backstory to an enchanting retrospective that reveals the radicality of a couturière whose ever-evolving ideas on fashion and art remain entirely relevant today
Daniel, is this the first time you have been involved so directly in an exhibition? How does it differ from a collection?
Yes. And it’s really fascinating because it’s a world apart from the world we live in. It’s a slow build, a slow crescendo. And I’m much more used to the instant gratification with the crazy schedule we all keep. But it has been incredible.
The exhibit was conceived before I even started. The House had been in talks with the Musée for a long time on doing an exhibition around Elsa. And then, when I was appointed, I think they thought it was the perfect time to do it. But then Covid happened. The last year and a half has been about waiting for this moment and building the brand simultaneously, so I think we’re meeting each other at the right moment.
There is such awareness of the Maison today under your vision but perhaps there remains less familiarity with Schiaparelli herself.
We discussed this with the museum too, because we know a lot of young people will come to this exhibit because of the Schiaparelli they know from the past two years. But I feel that heritage and legacy carry so much weight right now.
What were your discoveries of Elsa while preparing for the exhibition?
For me, it’s about her creative handwriting. I feel like I have a new level of understanding. Because you look at her contemporaries, too, it’s literally like, what planet was she living on? That’s what’s so admirable about her. It sets a very high bar for doing your own thing and being left of centre and alternative.
How does the exhibition contribute to the eternal debate about whether fashion can be considered art?
It’s sort of absurd to look at a photo of Dalí with a shoe on his head and then you have the hat shoe and say, this is art and that’s not. It feels kind-of unfair. It feels a little absurd. I do think fashion tends to be an applied art. But do I also think it can break through and actually become art? I do.
Olivier, what is the effect of Daniel’s creations on how we see Schiaparelli today?
Today, it’s very rare for an artistic director to also be able to design himself. In her lifetime, Elsa always asked, “How will people talk about me?” And I think the exhibition is very respectful because we talk about her and we show she is modern today. Modernity is a very weird concept for people because they are always defining modern in comparison with something. And I think that the presence of Daniel all around the exhibition is a wonderful opportunity for the visitor who doesn’t necessarily know about Elsa Schiaparelli to realise how modern she is and to reactivate some of her collections and ideas.
You will soon be assuming a new role at the Louvre. From your time here, the fashion exhibitions have always been in dialogue with art.
From my point-of-view, it was the signature I wanted to bring when I arrived, and Schiap is fantastic for this. Fashion talking to fashion has no interest to me. Fashion is part of any other topic in a museum and fashion has to be defined and to be used. When you do Schiaparelli, it’s like doing an exhibition on Michelangelo or Rembrandt; it’s as rare, it’s difficult to get the loans, there are emblematic artworks but they’re usually difficult to share because they’re not always on display. An exhibition like this will interest people in fashion but my ultimate goal is when people say they have never heard of Schiaparelli but talk about coming for Dalí.
Shocking! The Surreal World of Elsa Schiaparelli continues at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs until January 22, 2022.