Fashion is Surreal

November 11, 2014

Tilda Swinton in Schiaparelli the other night

Tilda Swinton in Schiaparelli the other night

People keep asking my thoughts about Schaiparelli faltering and Ralph Rucci departing his eponymous label as this has been a fairly tumultuous few days in fashion. Regarding Schaiparelli, this appears to be textbook on how not to relaunch a dormant brand. I always found it peculiar that Diego Della Valle didn’t try to catapult a capsule collection launch in tandem with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s strange-pairing of Elsa and Miuccia Prada retrospective in 2012. Although the show was criticized, at least Schiaprelli was in the collective fashion psyche and a new generation could learn how to pronounce her name. I would have launched some trompe l’oeil bow sweaters in cashmere, colorful costume jewelry, and shocking pink-sole shoes very exclusively at Bergdorf Goodman or create a tiny pop-up in NYC, as well as bring back the signature fragrance. Since Della Valle was unable to do a full fledged launch of the brand at that time ( he has owned the trademark since 2007), this seemed like a viable alternative. I am so puzzled why Della Valle wasn’t better prepped to take advantage of the gratuitous publicity of a Costume Institute exhibition, but c’est la vie.

The only thing Schiap had in place in 2012 was the appointment of very chic Farida Khelfa as the brand ambassador for the non-brand. This appointment was very peculiar since usually a creative director is in place before ambassadors and muses. In fairness, when Marco Zanini was appointed creative director in September 2013, I really felt he was entering an extremely vulnerable position since Khelfa had already been in place over a year decorating the headquarters and representing the brand. Plus, this was after that weird Christian Lacroix July 2013 installation of the Haute Couture maestro’s interpretations of Elsa Schiaparelli: a presentation of clothing not for sale from a brand not-yet-ready for prime time. The attendees and most important the clients were baffled. It just made no sense.

Madame Ambassador

Farida Khelfa

However, the biggest slap on the face to the clients was Marco Zanini’s January 2014 Couture debut which was a client-free show. That’s right, actual Couture clients were not invited to the show! This was just another misstep in the all-too-surreal relaunch of Schiaparelli. It just seemed so amateur and so unlike Diego Della Valle, who is a master strategist. When clients were invited to the July 2014 show, I could see why the buyers may have not been invited in January. The collection just didn’t work and was too literal and too vintage. I know the Couture spenders and it just didn’t resonate. Couture clients are smart. They knew it’s not working. A luxe ready to wear collection that was announced in a March never materialized either. I find it fascinating that Diego Della Valle who is an accessory wizard and Elsa Schaiparelli who had a strong accessory presence that continues to be collectible today (costume jewelry to Dali-designed compacts) have yet to find the balance. Much has been made of Della Valle’s lack of clothing experience which may have complicated matters. I suggest, clean house and give the job to a female designer. Plus, forget Couture as it’s over and just do some luxe ready to wear and phenomenal accessories. Diego Della Valle can afford to have a small gem of a brand in his arsenal of heavy hitters. Schiaparelli could be his artisanal brand that is profitable but limited.

Michelle Dockery in Ralph Rucci at 2013 SAG Awards

Michelle Dockery in Ralph Rucci at 2013 SAG Awards

As for Ralph Rucci. I am a great fan. With American designer fashion tending to be viewed as $400 tee-shirts and an occasional ball gown, Rucci constructed elegant and timeless clothing of impeccable quality. I guess the investors didn’t understand his DNA and sadly a lot of our major editors didn’t support the business of Rucci. He never wanted to play the fashion game, but he sure could beat any of his younger contemporaries at The Art of Dressing. Ralph Rucci without Ralph Rucci is a puzzle. We’ve become so youth-obsessed in American fashion that losing a designer to his label who first showed a collection in 1981 doesn’t bode well for the longevity of American fashion brands. We need to support and nurture all generations of brands. Fashion is really hard on both sides of the Atlantic.

Candidly yours,