These days, collaborations between a fashion house and an artist happen on every medium and at every turn. But then there's collaboration between two icons—like Salvador Dalí and Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s. The artists' creative conceptualism collided and now, more than 80 years later, we have a new Dalí & Schiaparelli exhibition opening tomorrow, October 18, through January 14, 2018, at The Dalí Museum. It's a grand collaboration of its own—and one 2.5 years in the making—between The Dalí and Schiaparelli Paris, with loans from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum and others.
Dalí met Schiaparelli through fellow artists like Cocteau, Magritte and Man Ray. Both artists delighted in the power of Surrealism to shock the fashion and art worlds, and so their successful partnership was born. Memorable and iconic fashion history ensued, like Shoe-Hat, which evolved from a photo by Gala of Dalí irreverently posing with a shoe on his head. And then there's the 1937 Lobster Dress (a personal fave), which was born from a Dalí drawing of an massive crimson lobster on a simple white organdy evening gown, symbolic of his endless obsession with sex. It's difficult to chose which became more famous, the dress or its owner, the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson.
An unexpected bonus of the exhibit is a collection of the recent Schiaparelli years featuring the work of Design Director Bertrand Guyon. This likable genius not only flew in from Paris for the opening, he also made time for a few of my questions post-press tour. Below, Bertrand shares insights on everything from his admiration of Elsa Schiaparelli to which piece he'd never seen before to what he likes to listen to while designing. You don't want to miss this...
Now that you are nearly three years in as Design Director of Schiaparelli’s haute couture and prêt-à-couture collections, tell me what you've learned working at this renowned fashion house.
I knew some of Schiaparelli; however, I discovered more of her story as I sorted through the archives, especially the sketches from the 1930s to 1950s. I learned aspects of her work that I didn’t know—not just the inspiration and collaboration with artists like Dalí, Cocteau and Giacometti, but the lesser known details [in her designs], which inspired me a lot. I discovered the incredible talent of how she cut a garment—she was a real genius, a real artist, ahead of her time, but also a “couturière.” She tailored the most beautiful dresses in black and blue-marine, for day and cocktail—so not just the shocking pink she was known for. I love to follow her vision – every day I learn. I’m a student of Schiaparelli.
How does creating at 21 Place Vendôme, the very location where Elsa Schiaparelli worked, inspire your arc on her legacy?
I am in awe. The walls “speak” to me in my small studio office on the top floor. The space is full of antique pieces from Schiaparelli’s own collection, which are paired with my favorite things. I work facing a personal portrait of Schiaparelli by Maurice van Moppes—I am very fortunate to have it, she “talks" to me. "Maybe she likes this, maybe she doesn’t like that," I joke, but I do feel her presence there.
I know it’s difficult to play favorites with the exhibit, but I must ask: Is there a particular piece of fashion memorabilia here that you fell for?
Yes, one that I had never seen before. I’m in love with the black garment [above]—it’s genius with the zip on the shoulders and situated above the hips. It’s beautifully made and very modern. And, it looks comfortable, which for me is important. The piece must be wearable, even though it is art. This is not theater. These are real clothes.
Also, I love that all the jackets were originally designed with gowns. I believe Schiaparelli was the first to introduce the jacket in evening dress. The jackets are works of art with incredibly thoughtful embroidery.
Finally, how do you find inspiration for your designs year after year?
I try to put a young, fresh, lightness into my collections. And, everything inspires me – books, any book and also some by and about Schiaparelli, movies and music. I particularly love Kate Bush, and when I work I love Arcade Fire.