Katie O’Brien reviews the Schiaparelli show that began Paris Fashion Week with a triumphant roar.
Love or hate aside, it did what was intended. Couture Fashion Week was well and truly defined by Schiaparelli’s Spring/Summer 2023 couture runway.
The whole show felt like a piece of performative art or theatre even before it began. The cult of the celebrity is truly well and alive, front row watching has officially become a part of the fashion world again. This return was enforced by Doja Cat's red bedazzled outfit and skin, showing once again she is a celebrity who appreciates the art form of fashion itself. Now, the show has come under a lot of backlash, as surely was predicted.
The show took creative influence from the 14th century epic poem Inferno by Dante Alighieri, which is a comedy about Dante's journey through hell whilst accompanied by the Roman poet Virgil. Many have said that the poem stands as an allegory for politics, religion or both. With all of this in mind it feels both ironic and right for a major fashion house to take it and use it for their own purposes.
This being said, how can we take the ethics of a poem from the 14th century which praises God as not being the divine but being the perfect man, how can we take the message of this and implement it into our lives when it probably doesn’t resonate with many anymore
Dante records his opinions of hell being a place where sin is punished and thus the ethics of the world is rebalanced. Virgil explains the sin of 'incontinenza' which is directed towards people who lack moderation or restraints - sinners who are lustful, spenders, hoarders or gluttons. There are also the sins of “frode” which can be the abuse of somebody’s wealth, intelligence or influence to deceive their victims and was classed by Dante as the least forgivable sin.
Now, it needn’t be explained why this feels both on the nose and also over the heads of the people in attendance but I will anyway. Sitting centre stage in the front row was the “self made” billionaire Kylie Jenner who has come from the inherently famous Kardashians, who pride themselves on the over-consumption of possessions and wealth. Not to mention their infamously hit or miss companies that continue to stay afloat due to the deception of appearances.
Kylie's case is just an example, but this show was full of millionaires and celebrities who either did not fully grasp the deeper concept of this poem or else did and agreed with the points made in an ironic “self made” narrative. This being said, how can we take the ethics of a poem from the 14th century which praises God as not being the divine, but being the perfect man, and implement it into our lives when it probably doesn’t resonate with many anymore? Some things never change, and wealth and the deception of the wealthy and elite practised on the lower classes is something still strongly felt. People watch from afar on their phones and read articles about fashion shows that openly flex wealth, but why does this one seem far too on the nose? Is it because the deeper meaning is condemning these actions, or is it because it felt like an expression of old money trophy room wealth?
This is where the lines are blurred about what art can be appropriated to give new meanings to and what art has concrete meaning. We can interpret anything however we like and art is nothing without interpretation. Roseberry interpreted this poem as being about doubt, others may interpret it as being an outright moral lecture about the fate of unhappiness that awaits people who abuse wealth and power
Apart from the backlash they received from the meaning of Dante's Inferno they also faced the criticism of trophy hunting, with the wealthy abusing their money and power to take advantage of the vulnerable. The reasoning behind this was how the three personifications of lust, pride and avarance were represented on the runway. In the poem these sins were represented in the form of a lion, a wolf and a snow leopard. On the runway they were represented as faux fur animal head dresses dawned by some of the most famous supermodels. Again, this feels like it could either be consciously on the nose or just have been done for aesthetic purposes. Animal rights activists were calling out the brand for glamorising fur again even though the brand showed the method of how they made the faux fur and animal heads, but it still didn’t sit right with many activists and the public. To give the designers credit, the method and sculptural efforts placed into creating these animals was astounding, considering how real they looked, but it is understandable why so many were unhappy.
The artistic director for Schiaparelli Daniel Roseberry said he took influence from Dante's Inferno because he could somehow relate to Dante himself and his uncertain journey through hell, likening it to his own uncertainty creating and designing his pieces. This leads me to believe the true message of this poem was missed or maybe not fully addressed. He called the collection an homage to doubt. An homage to the doubt felt by a wealthy designer.
This is where the lines are blurred about what art can be appropriated to give new meanings to and what art has concrete meaning. We can interpret anything however we like and art is nothing without interpretation. Roseberry interpreted this poem as being about doubt, others may interpret it as being an outright moral lecture about the fate of unhappiness that awaits people who abuse wealth and power. But neither of these interpretations can be deemed as the right way or the wrong way to read something.
Personally, I would side with the approach of the poem being a condemnation of wealth and greed, so this show seemed rather ironic. If the show had been conducted in an ironic way, would it have made its point if the designer intended it to be a moral lecture for the wealthy? I think if we can take anything from this show it's that art can be interpreted in many ways and if there is a right or wrong way to resonate with art we haven’t truly defined it yet. The designs were innovative and new which is all we can truly ask from fashion these days, when everything feels doomed to repetition.