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A Closer Look at Schiaparelli’s Surrealist Couture Jewellery

By Alice Cavanagh

Schiaparelli’s artistic director, Daniel Roseberry, reimagined the eye-shaped brooch that Jean Cocteau created with Elsa Schiaparelli in 1937 as brass earrings with digitally printed enamel eyeballs.
 
Audrey Corregan
Schiaparelli’s artistic director, Daniel Roseberry, reimagined the eye-shaped brooch that Jean Cocteau created with Elsa Schiaparelli in 1937 as brass earrings with digitally printed enamel eyeballs.

When a designer is creating a clothing collection, jewellery is, more often than not, the final flourish. Not exactly an afterthought, but rarely the main event. For Schiaparelli’s spring 2020 haute couture show, which was held earlier today, the house’s 34-year-old Texas-born artistic director, Daniel Roseberry, turned this idea on its head. “This season I found myself designing entire looks around a piece of jewellery, and it’s become a whole language of the collection,” he said, a week before the Paris show, as he surveyed the trays of glittering ornaments that covered the long white wooden desk in his atelier. He pointed out his favourite piece: a choker made from faux pearls and brass casts of teeth — each one embellished with diamond cavities — that resembled an Edwardian ruffled collar in shape. “It’s our demented version of the iconic pearl necklace,” he said with a grin, “To me, this is like, ‘straight to the museum.’”

After leaving his role as the design director of the New York-based luxury brand Thom Browne, where he worked for 10 years, Roseberry arrived at Schiaparelli, headquartered in one of the grand neo-Classical mansions on Paris’s Place Vendôme last April. Renowned as the most avant-garde of the 20th-century couturiers, Elsa Schiaparelli founded her maison in the late 1920s. Though untrained as a couturier, she carved out a place for herself as a vital force within the French capital’s Modernist creative milieu; her friendships with artists such as Salvador Dalí, Alberto Giacometti and Jean Cocteau not only informed her highly conceptual, witty designs but they also wielded museum-worthy collaborations, including the black felt hat she produced with Dalí in 1937 that looked like an upturned shoe.

Audrey CorreganLeft: Rhinestone chandelier earrings that evoke Cocteau’s eye brooch for Schiaparelli. Right: An assortment of unique brass buttons inspired by the iconography of the house, including motifs designed by Cocteau and the artist Alberto Giacometti.
Left: Rhinestone chandelier earrings that evoke Cocteau’s eye brooch for Schiaparelli. Right: An assortment of unique brass buttons inspired by the iconography of the house, including motifs designed by Cocteau and the artist Alberto Giacometti.
Audrey CorreganLeft: Oversize chandelier earrings made from repurposed brass and crystal vintage jewellery. Right: A choker of faux pearls and brass-cast teeth, each of them embellished with a diamond cavity.
Left: Oversize chandelier earrings made from repurposed brass and crystal vintage jewellery. Right: A choker of faux pearls and brass-cast teeth, each of them embellished with a diamond cavity.

Now, such archival treasures offer Roseberry a wealth of iconic Surrealist designs to work with. This season, he revived the eye-shaped brooch Cocteau designed for the house in 1937 as frames for coquettish brass eyewear and earringsrendering the latter eerily hyper-real with digitally printed enamel eyeballs. The sun motif Dalí created for the perfume stopper of the 1947 Schiaparelli fragrance Le Roy Soleil appeared as embroidery, and Roseberry also revisited Schiaparelli’s gothic 1938 Skeleton Dress, a sculptural gown with three-dimensional bones formed from embroidered padding; he used the design as inspiration for a pair of elbow-length evening gloves, stitched with a skeleton motif formed from antique jewellery elements, including brass beads, pearls and seashells.

“At first, I didn’t understand what the value of costume jewellery was, because these women can obviously afford the real thing,” Roseberry admitted in the atelier, referring to the house’s haute couture clientele. “I also didn’t like the idea of making costume jewellery that looked like it wanted to be real,” he added, delicately holding up a pair of one-of-a-kind, shoulder-skimming chandelier earrings crafted from an assortment of trinkets, including another Schiaparelli totem, the brass padlock. “But then I realised it could be a way to advance the message of the collection: we’re treating these accessories in surrealist, show-worthy ways.”

Audrey CorreganLeft: Decadent brass earrings also pay homage to Cocteau’s eye brooch. Right: The collection’s eye motif even appeared as frames for glasses.
Left: Decadent brass earrings also pay homage to Cocteau’s eye brooch. Right: The collection’s eye motif even appeared as frames for glasses.
Audrey CorreganLeft: A pair of gloves, embroidered with antique jewellery elements, that reference Schiaparelli’s 1938 Skeleton Dress. Right: Schiaparelli’s Skeleton Dress (1938).
Left: A pair of gloves, embroidered with antique jewellery elements, that reference Schiaparelli’s 1938 Skeleton Dress. Right: Schiaparelli’s Skeleton Dress (1938).

To help each piece stand out, Roseberry designed a series of opening looks — wool suiting cut in pure, elegant lines — that would serve as a blank canvas. This stark simplicity was inspired by Elsa Schiaparelli’s own style. “There’s a photo of her in the atelier, in fittings, and she is in this severe tailored look that she accessorised with this insane python cuff,” he explained. To illustrate, he held up an elegant navy wool suit composed of high-waisted, wide-leg pants and a cropped cardigan jacket with ornate embroidered lapels designed to match the collection’s chandelier earrings. “It harks back to that golden age of couture for me,” he said, “to late ’80s Christian Lacroix and Yves Saint Laurent, when you had huge door-knocker earrings.”

As the show progressed toward the finale, he explained, the looks would climax in a performative fashion, becoming more and more decadent, with dramatic evening gowns encrusted with jewels. He gestured toward a brilliant sapphire blue gown, adorned with brass and crystals, that was being fitted on a mannequin. “Basically,” he said of its wearer, “she’ll look like a jewellery box.”