Should designers shout or whisper?

Yesterday I woke up to two text messages sharing the same image of model Irina Shayk wearing a black column dress with a life-size roaring lion head attached to the bodice at the Schiaparelli Spring 2023 show that opened the Week of fashion in Paris. One text read: “LOVE!!! KILL!!!” The other? “That’s the most” – uh, well, it got kind of unprintable from there, but let’s just say it wasn’t pleasant.

Schiaparelli’s animal-head look — Shalom Harlow as a snow leopard, Shayk as a lion and Naomi Campbell in a wolf’s coat, inspired respectively by their symbolism as lust, pride and greed in Dante’s Divine Comedy — sparked a firestorm online. which my colleague Tara Gonzalez wrote about here. When it became clear that they were fake – made of resin, wool, silk and foam – some corners of the internet became even more upset.

Rarely is fashion so divisive; usually everyone either loves a collection or ignores it. To see something cause such a scandal – one Instagram commenter suggested the house burn down the entire collection in shame and PETA actually issued a statement in support of the look– is a testament to the incredible creativity of designer Daniel Roseberry.

I guess they were a bit stupid. But I could also see the dresses as a hilariously grotesque commentary on our dubious claim that faux fur is better than real. It’s like Fashion’s Impossible Burger: is it better to eat an organically “ethical” mock-up of the real thing or a beautifully cooked vegetable? Or you can see it as a commentary on the way the ultra-rich hunt fashion as a sport. The pieces lend themselves to a quirky intellectual play, which is a worthy goal for tailoring at the highest artistic level, don’t you think?

Everyone yearns for the outrageous clothes of McQueen, Mugler, Galliano from the Dior era; and yet they often forget that these clothes would be very controversial today. (Or pointless. See: Copernicus’ splattered dress.)

Schiapp herself uses exotic hides and skins in her collections; one of her most famous designs was a monkey fur coat, which she even produces as ready-to-wear. Roseberry’s heads felt like a nod to this, with the added sheen of Schiap’s surreal obsession (in the show notes, he writes of his desire to trick us into thinking that they could, could be real heads). But I don’t think they’re important just because they’re provocative, in a Jordan Wolfson sort of way. What’s more, Roseberry uses fashion to evoke feelings and thoughts that we don’t normally associate with media. He reminds us that clothes can be funny, disturbing, frightening and strange. In her show notes, Rosebery called the collection “my homage to doubt.” Not everyone can take their clothes off, or even wants to, and I love how comfortable he feels about it. Lean back in the alcove! It’s fashion and 2023, after all! If anything, his oddities are a haven for decadents who feel repulsed by mainstream fashion but still have that urge for something out of the ordinary, special, gorgeous. For all the “who’s going to wear this???” head-shaking his clothes can induce, they have a strong and dedicated clientele (his ready-to-wear showroom at Bergdorf Goodman is always well packed), and celebrities are willing to sit under Pat McGrath’s hands for five hours to get crystals applied to their bodies (as did Doja Cat) in the name of Schiap.

Let’s turn our attention to the rest of the collection, where Roseberry has done some other great things. (Actually, I kind of wish Roseberry had just done the tiger image of Shake, which was most interesting and Schiap-esque, as a bored second wife, curled up in the tiger-head rug in the library and wandered into a game of bridge to her husband.) This collection was more refined than last season – simplified and clarified. The opening look was a white hourglass jacket, almost bar-shaped, though a little more rounded and Victorian and therefore kinky, made of beads, paper or tied silk, with a pair of black cropped trousers. Hedonistic but pure. The other standout looks were Oscar-worthy, which is always a big part of this fashion season: a rounded velvet bodice with a satin skirt pinched in the front and a velvet jumpsuit with huge shoulders and ombre sleeves and a black column bandage with a huge spray of hay gold front passenger.

If Schiaparelli shouts, Dior whispers. Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Dior collection was inspired by Josephine Baker, but with a light hand. I’m intrigued by the way designers, especially women, seem to be rethinking the 1920s, which was the first time (and many historians would say the only period) when fashion was truly modern, invested in innovation and technology and keeping pace with the progress and speed of the rest of culture. Emily Adams Bode Aujla explored a similar theme in her womenswear debut this past weekend, but Maria Grazia was even more restrained and less fanciful, focusing on a beautiful and delicate selection of pleating and quilting techniques on skirts and silk crepe separates. Even when she said “J’ai Deux Amours,” meant to pay a more obvious homage to Baker, the clothes seemed basic, almost like the tech leather or foundation under a 1920s slinky silk dress, as in see- over top and skirt with chainmail and beading and gold and silver striped beaded dress with fringed hem.

But really, this is a collection for soooo c, so you can appreciate the draped neckline and delicate pleating of a black top and bateau skirt, or the sparkling beading of a fringed top and crushed silk skirt. Of course, the most sublime thing about these garments is that their technique and impact will never be truly apparent to anyone but the woman who wears them. To others, they may seem sophisticated, and it may take a few minutes to appreciate the intricate pleating technique of a white tennis dress. But talk to women who have worn Chiuri’s clothes and they rave about the fit, the practicality, the durability. Her emphasis on practical daywear in this collection, mixed with dresses that have an artisanal, non-corporate sheen, feels like a peek into the beautifully appointed home of a woman fabulous beyond our imaginations. Privacy, individuality, a secret, something handmade to adorn your body… nothing could be more luxurious right now. It’s the opposite, in some ways, of Schiaparelli’s approach, which lassos us with a scandalous zoo. But isn’t it strange that one day of fashion week accommodates both types of women?

Main photo by Rachel Tashjian

Rachel Tashjian is the director of Fashion News at Harper’s Bazaar, working across print and digital platforms. It was before that GQthe first fashion critic and worked as deputy editor of GARAGE and as a writer in Vanity Fair. She has written for publications including Book forum and Artforumand is the creator of the invitation-only Opulent Tips newsletter.

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