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"High fashion is a world apart, a bubble where you can do what you want."

16th June 2018

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Since taking over the artistic direction of Schiaparelli, Bertrand Guyon has put the brand back on the chessboard of fashion. How to create for a house that bears the name of a woman from another century, while remaining faithful to both the founder and oneself? How to anchor in the XNUMXst century a fashion house that was asleep for decades? Meet. - Photographs: Michèle Bloch-Stuckens. Interview: Isabelle Cerboneschi, Paris.

Bertrand Guyon is a man of few words who likes to let his creations speak for him. Since 2015, he designed the Schiaparelli collections and in just three years, he has managed to put the name back on the chessboard of fashion.

Elsa Schiaparelli; a spirit, a style, inseparable from an era. She started with sportswear before pushing her extravagances. Her first collection was called "Pour le SportAnd she was already incorporating trompe-l'œil motifs long before her surrealist collaborations with artists such as Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau. Elsa Schiaparelli's career was played between 1927 - the year she presented her first collection - and 1954, when she closed her house. Twenty-seven years is both little and enough to mark the history of fashion.

How to transcribe this spirit today and continue to tell an interrupted story? Bertrand Guyon has chosen to look a little in the past, just enough for what is needed, a lot in the present, without forgetting to think about the future. The style director learned most of his job at Givenchy from the founder, Hubert de Givenchy, of which he was the first high fashion assistant, then with John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, who succeeded the master as the art directors of the house. In 1997, he joined Christian Lacroix, and eleven years later Valentino where he worked in tandem with Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli. Of course in the shadow, but without fault. Since he is in the light, Bertrand Guyon, Breton of origin, remains as discreet as Elsie Schiaparelli was "Shocking".

In January 2017 Schiaparelli obtained the label of haute couture. What has changed for you?
Bertrand Guyon:
Basically, in terms of design, collection development, and my personal work, it did not change much. On the other hand, it changes a lot as to the image of the house and the credibility. Owning the haute couture label is extremely important, and at the same time it seemed obvious to me; Elsa Schiaparelli is one of the great fashion houses. Maybe because I always worked in high fashion houses ... When I started in April 2015, the collection I presented at the Hôtel d’Evreux was the first collection that had a commercial impact and initiated the economic reality of Schiaparelli. This is the most successful collection and the customers still order from it three years later.

So there is no "end" as such for a haute couture collection?
No. If a client wants a dress from a previous season, there is no reason for it not to be realised. If we do not have the fabric, it can be a problem, but otherwise you can reproduce most of the dresses. It's haute couture! It's a world apart, a bubble where you can do what you want. With ready-to-wear, when a collection is no longer produced, it is no longer produced. With haute couture, there is always a possibility to reproduce.

And from this first collection, what were the most requested pieces?
We sold the entire collection and there is not one model that we have not repeated at least once. Which is amazing!

It seems to me that you were closer to the archives with this first collection than with the most recent ones.
Well not exactly! It's the least faithful to the inheritance. I had to make the first collection in a very short time: I arrived in the house in April and we showed early July. I had a very superficial knowledge of what Schiaparelli was. I only had access to the archives later. What I did for this first collection was very instinctive. Obviously, we recognised some signs but there was no code ...

Apart from the cloak Phœbus… The cape Phoebus was a beige cape in Provencal boutis - we were far from the world of Schiaparelli - who reproduced a psychedelic sun. It was a reinterpretation. I had mostly worked on the world of Christian Bérard, in the world of the theatre, each model had a part name of the 1930's. The theme did not limit me. And this collection worked very well because it was very varied, much more than the following ones.

And what about your last collection high fashion spring-summer?
I wanted to express my vision, but staying true to Schiaparelli. There are embroideries in the collection that were created for her and that come from the Lesage house, there are cuts close to the dresses she made. I did a lot more work on the archives, to realise this collection, only to create the previous ones. The creative process is different today. Maybe I got more insurance, which allows me to distance myself from the heritage, while feeling anchored in the house? The balance is very difficult to find in Schiaparelli: if we are too close to the archives, her universe, it is not interesting because we are like a facsimile. If you take too much distance, you are not loyal to the house, and you create your own fashion house ... which I will never do because it's a bit late (laughs).

Schiaparelli marked the fashion of the twentieth century, but when you were named, your challenge was to put it in the XNUMXst. What to keep, what to leave in the mind?
This question should not be asked. look at Paul Poiret! It was cheeky to revive this house a hundred years after its closure, and at the same time it's successful! He was a couturier from the beginning of the century. Now we are back at the beginning of the century. The beginning of the century is always extremely interesting, as far as fashion is concerned; it is the end of something and the beginning of something else. Empire style fashion in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was sublime! It was a break. Then everything became less daring. At the beginning of the XNUMXth century too, fashion changed radically.

How do you find the fashion at the beginning of the XNUMXst century is audacious?
I do not think we are very much aware of what is happening right now. It seems to me that it may be perceived more in a few years. The history of Western fashion has been constructed with a kind of logic. The modes are connected with each other: we move to more flexible silhouettes, transparencies, things are more corseted, more built, then also liberated forms, more daring and then all of a sudden, we go back, to more austere clothes. Fashion is never truly revolutionary. There are creators and designers who have been more prominent than many others, but they were deeply rooted in their time. When Dior opens his house in 1947, his style was in tune with the times, he was not alone in doing that.

There was Jacques Fath in particular ...
Yes, and there were others who wanted to do the same things at the same time. Dior did it sublimely. Around the couturiers whose names continue, there is always a beautiful story. Dior had. Chanel had. Schiaparelli had it. And that's what creates a myth. Right now, I'm reading Dior's biography. It's interesting to understand why Schiaparelli, after the war, was less successful than before the war, it was the largest fashion house, the one that had the most influence at the time. She had the most sublime clients on earth. She sold more perfumes than Chanel. In size, she employed fewer workers than Madeleine Vionnet, but in terms of notoriety, she was the most influential. And suddenly, it stopped.

How do you explain this downturn?
The war has arrived. When Elsa Schiaparelli returned to Paris (a city she had left in 1940 for the United States, ed) she had great difficulty in understanding the world in which she lived. And she was not the only one. Many customers dropped her because fashion had changed. When I look at the drawings from 1946 to 1954 collections, we can clearly see that it's less spontaneous, that there was less ease, less resources, less inspiration. And sometimes she self-inspired herself. It's terrible when you start to draw on your own codes to move forward.

How is the modernity of Schiaparelli expressed?
At first I hate the modern word! (Laughs). It's obvious that when we look at Schiaparelli's photos, read books dedicated to her, see some dresses in museums or exhibitions, we are always struck by the modernity of certain cuts, some silhouettes, some clothes that could still be worn today. I think of jackets for example: there is nothing more contemporary than a jacket for a woman. It's basic. She had the idea to work the jackets in a very feminine way, worn with a long , or short dress. She was the first to create a women's tux, well before Yves Saint Laurent, she was the first to divert everyday clothes to make something comfortable. She hated corsets, she hated Dior, by the way. She talks about it in the book Shocking life. She liked flexibility, femininity, great natural elegance, and finally one realizes very quickly that her fashion, her style, are incredibly current.

How is her style current?
The wardrobe of a woman has changed a lot in 70 years, but when we look at 1930's photos, we realise the base was already there. It seems to me that women of today have more affinities with these clothes - these wide trousers, these clothes in jersey, in silk, this sweetness - over those 50 years. We want this comfort and at the same time fantasy. Schiaparelli was quite austere in her life, she was a career woman, but with a lot of fantasy, a keen sense of art and beauty. All this seems very contemporary to me. I try to reinterpret an image that is true to the spirit of the house, but I live in 2018 and I have clients who live, who have responsibilities and who work in 2018.

Which are the times that you prefer?
By taste, I like the 20's and 30's. These are the two decades that I prefer, with the 70's. Today we find a certain fancy, a certain comfort that reigned at those times. That's why there's an explosion of casual chic, this sophisticated sportswear side that was worn before with as much ease, without being ridiculous, as a couture dress. I like this mix.

You talk about sporstwear, and that's exactly where Schiaparelli started; with the use of mesh. This part of the history of the house is poorly known yet was gold in your last collection and there were many very contemporary knits, in raffia or nylon threads, created by mesh artist Cécile Feichenfeld. Was it a way of bringing back the know-how of the original but in a current way?
I love the work of Cécile Feichenfeld! She makes samples for the house according to the desires that we have together. I like the meeting between tradition and technological experience. It's a real collaborative work, the same way I do an embroidery at Lesage or Vermont, a feather piece at Lemarié. For the last collection, with Cécile, we made four pieces together including a dress in knitted ruffles. We worked together on the gradient, chose the colours of the pearls. I had the idea of ​​an imaginary market of Tombouctou. Another was in nude tones. We make the canvases in our workshops, then we give them to Cécile the patronages. She makes the pieces of mesh, but the dresses are built in our workshops. We have two of them: Alain's here in the house and Christian's on Volney Street. About twenty people work there and when we create a collection, we double the number. It's a little hive. I am happy to have workshops, with the premium assistants and others as well a being where my premier assistants are. It was a long time to set up; when I arrived there were three and a half people. I had to completely build the team, the studio.

Elsa Schiaparelli invented certain motifs that can be found in other houses that have appropriated them, precisely because of the closure of the house; the printed newspaper, the eye which pierces by a tear, for example. But the new observers and consumers of fashion do not have this memory. I imagine it is very difficult for you to try to reuse these with legitimate reasons?
It is indeed very difficult. But what is even more difficult is to self-censor. There is nothing worse. I regret bitterly for not having redone this printed "newspaper". I wanted to bring him out. I had samples made by an Italian house with whom I have been working for a long time. We had made models with false Schiaparelli press cuttings, because I absolutely wanted to reproduce this print in a contemporary way. And I did not care if it was a motif used by Galliano, because this print belongs to the Schiaparelli estate. But I was warned and listened to those voices. I feel guilty. Look what Demna Gvasalia does for Balenciaga: He redid the newspaper print. He does not care about the precedence of Galliano and Schiaparelli, and he is right.

Freedom above all?For me thats the real key; to be free and not to self-censor. Today we live in an era where we constantly censor ourselves. But do not be afraid to dare. Today it's too late for me to bring out this print. We must be aware of how lucky we are to work in a house like Schiaparelli, which has an extraordinary heritage, and although many things have been looted for decades, it does not matter if I am told that I copy this mark or that mark. If a motif, print, or shape belongs to the patrimony of the house and if it is legitimate, there is no reason for me not to redo it. It would be a shame to self-censor. It's as if today I said that I was not going to revive the bottle Shocking because Jean-Paul Gaultier also did it. Schiaparelli House has had the misfortune of not being properly managed, and we are constantly facing problems. Take the sublime bottle The Sun King, well we can not use that anymore.

Why?Because it belongs to the Dali Foundation.

And the perfume Zut?There are some things that we took care to deposit, but not everything. And it's a shame because it's part of the story of the house.

Speaking of perfume, is it a heritage that will be reworked?
Yes of course! It is a relatively short-term project.

Can we hope to find out in July during Couture week?
Not yet. We'll have to wait a little bit ... (And he ends with a laugh).

Schiaparelli in a few dates:

1927 XNUMX Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) creates his first mesh collection.
1928 XNUMX Collection «
Pour le sportforum.
1930 XNUMX Opening of his house at
21 place Vendôme.
1931 XNUMX Launch of his first evening dresses.
1935 XNUMX Schiap moved to 21 place Vendôme.
1936 XNUMX Launch of the perfume Shocking!
1937 XNUMX Creation of the famous Lobster Dress, an evening dress with a lobster painted by dali in white organdie.
1938 XNUMX Creation of the
Skeleton Dress, belonging to the Circus Collection. A black evening dress with applications representing a skeleton, designed by Dali (and considered as an outrage to good taste).
1940 XNUMX Elsa Schiaparelli settles in
New York.
1948 XNUMX Launch of the perfume Zut!
1954 XNUMX In December, closing of the house.
2007 XNUMX Diego Della Valle redeems the brand.
2013 XNUMX Collection «
Hommage à Elsa»Drawn by Christian Lacroix.
2013XNUMX. Appointment of Marco Zanini to the artistic direction.
2014 XNUMX First show of the new era.
2015 XNUMX Appointment of
Bertrand Guyon as director of the style.

"We live in a time of constant censorship: do not be afraid to dare."

Around the couturiers whose names continue, there is always a beautiful story. Dior had. Chanel had. Schiaparelli had it.

We must be aware of how lucky we are to work in a house like Schiaparelli, which has an extraordinary heritage, even though many things have been looted by other brands for decades.

Elsa Schiaparelli had the idea to work the jackets very feminine way, worn with a long dress, or short, she was the first to create a tuxedo for women, well before Yves Saint Laurent.