Schiaparelli Presents Its New Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2023 Collection: Inferno
In 1308, the poet Dante Alighieri began what would be his masterwork, The Divine Comedy, a 14,233-line poem divided into three books: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.
We all know this work, by name if not by heart. And yet when I revisited it recently, I was struck by something I’d missed when I first encountered it—not the horror of hell that Dante conjures so vividly, nor the sense of despair that overcomes you as you descend further and further into the realm—but by how the story is, at its core, an allegory of doubt. The narrator, Dante’s stand-in (also named Dante), is almost exactly middle-aged at the narrative’s beginning, when he finds himself “midway upon the journey of our life.” And yet as he climbs deeper into hell, he realizes just how little he actually knows—all those years, all that life, and yet he remains in that “dark wood,” the path he had once walked so surely vanished from sight.
What appealed to me in the Inferno wasn’t just the theatrics of Dante’s creation—it was how perfect a metaphor it provided for the torment that every artist or creative person experiences when we sit before the screen or the sketchpad or the dress form, when we have that moment in which we’re shaken by what we don’t know. When I’m stuck, I often take some comfort in thinking of Elsa Schiaparelli: the codes she created, the risks she took, are now the stuff of history and legend, and yet she too must have been uncertain, even scared, when she was inventing them. Her fear enabled her bravery, which sounds counterintuitive but is key to the artistic process. Fear means you’re pushing yourself to make something shocking, something new.
This collection is my homage to doubt. The doubt of creation, and the doubt of intent. The twinned, sometimes contradictory impulses to please one’s audience and to impress oneself; the ambivalence that is every artist’s constant companion. And so with this collection, I wanted to step away from techniques I was comfortable with and understood, to choose instead that dark wood, where everything is scary but new, where I would be feeling my way through someplace I didn’t know and didn’t understand.
Nothing is as it appears to be in these clothes. Along with a nod to Dante’s sense of organization (three looks for each of the nine circles of hell), I also took direct inspiration from some of his most arresting images. The leopard, the lion, and the she-wolf—representing lust, pride, and avarice, respectively—find form here in spectacular faux-taxidermy creations, constructed entirely by hand, from foam, resin, and other manmade materials. Other pieces are inspired by the slippery, house-of-mirrors quality of his Inferno: the paillettes that tremble from some of the dresses are actually made from leather-slicked slabs of tin, and the baubles that cover one skirt are made not from fabric but wooden beads. The velvet column dresses’ apparently iridescent shimmer is in fact hand-painted, in pigment that changes color depending on your perspective, like a butterfly’s wings. Additionally; plastrons have been sculpted in waves of actual mother of pearl, plus one in lemon tree marquetry. And a personal favorite, a giant bust made of copper and patina’d by hand have been labors of love for the past four months.
Elsa always promised surprise in her work, and over the years, people have learned to come to Schiaparelli in a spirit of wonder; you don’t know what you’re going to encounter here, but you know that the story will be different each time. This season, we concentrated less on deliberate artifice, such as our signature hyperstylized anatomy bijoux, and more on blurring the lines between the real and the unreal. Mimicry (is that a real lion?) becomes its own form of Surrealism in this collection, such that you’re never quite sure who made the piece you’re looking at—was it nature? Or was it man? Yet at the same time, we’ve prioritized and spotlit the artist’s hand more than ever before, in naif, rough-cut, earthy jewelry and hand-painted, gold-veined alligator “Secret” and “Face” handbags. If Dante learns how much life can deceive us, especially a life we think we know, then these clothes echo that deceit, reminding us of the necessity of occasionally finding ourselves somewhere we’re forced to re-see our assumptions.
Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso: One cannot exist without the others. It is a reminder that there is no such thing as heaven without hell; there is no joy without sorrow; there is no ecstasy of creation without the torture of doubt. My prayer for myself is that I remember that always—that, on my most difficult days, when inspiration just won’t come, I remember that no ascension to heaven is possible without first a trip to the fires, and the fear that comes with it. Let me embrace it always.
- LOOK 1
Ecru shell-effect sequins embroidered fitted jacket, enhanced with a corseted waist. It is worn with ¾ length pants in black jersey. Long black leather gloves adorned with keyhole signature detail.
Earrings representing a statue face in dark color gilded brass.
- LOOK 2
House signature fragrance bottle Shocking! shaped corset top in black fluid stretch velvet, enhanced with a keyhole detail on the lapel and laceup details in the back. The piece is paired with a pleated mini-skirt in ecru silk duchess.
Earrings representing a statue face in black lacquered brass.
- LOOK 3
Extreme hourglass quilted coat in ecru silk satin embellished with an exaggerated collar and fully lace-up back.
Eye-shaped earrings in gilded brass in champagne color adorned with hand-facetted broken glass and inlaid with leather padded elements.
- LOOK 4
Illusion strap dress in beige stretch silk georgette, fully embroidered with molded leather metal sequins. Incorporated in the dress, a matching molded leather bra topped with conical breasts pinned with brass and hand-facetted glass piercings.
Gilded brass and broken glass earrings, with inlaid leather padded elements on the left, and enamel and rhinestone adornments shaped like an anatomical ear on the right.
- LOOK 5
Bolero jacket in ecru heavy crepe wool embroidered with tonal silk and mohair pompoms, adorned with black broken glass hand-facetted buttons on the sleeves and keyhole detail on the lapel. It is worn on top of a black compact jersey extreme shaping corset enhanced with an impossible V plunging neckline. High waisted pleated pants with incorporated basque in black wool and silk toile.
- LOOK 6
Hand-painted off-white seamless blouse in custom cotton guipure lace with unbuttoned cuff sleeves and exaggerated collar, adorned with keyhole buttons in hammered gilded brass. Long plunging slit draped skirt in black velvet.
Egg-shaped black varnished brass earrings enameled by hand with gold and ivory reflections.
- LOOK 7
Extreme bustier dress in silk georgette fully covered in ecru glass bugle beads and tubes fringes, enhanced with sharp edges.
Gold plated brass sunglasses with perforations and keyhole detail on the branches.
- LOOK 8
House signature fragrance bottle Shocking! shaped tailored jacket in ecru wool bouclé trimmed with a trompe-l’oeil snake trimming hand sculpted in resin, snake skin and leather along with snake skin buttons details on the sleeves. The jacket has a fully laced back. ¾ length black pants.
Glasses in hammered patined brass with perforations and keyhole details on the branches.
- LOOK 9
Extreme shell marquetry plastron fully covered in mother of pearls, enhanced with hand-molded leather ornaments covered with 24-carat gold leaf. Long draped skirt with a train in champagne liquid silk velvet.
- LOOK 10
Bustier dress in hand-painted wool and silk snow leopard faux-fur, with matching hyper-realistic snow leopard head handmade in resin.
- LOOK 11
Tuxedo ensemble with House signature fragrance bottle Shocking! shaped tailored jacket in dark brown cotton, enhanced with a plunging impossible V neckline along with tonal silk satin lapel. Matching pants with tonal silk satin smoking band. The jacket is enhanced with a corseted waist and an impossible V neckline.
- LOOK 12
Bustier all-in-one long dress in black fluid stretch velvet with an incorporated trompe-l’oeil brown satin faille stole enhanced with a laceup detail on the back and an incorporated trompe-l’oeil brown satin faille stole.
- LOOK 13
Extreme plastron in Ceylan lemontree wood marquetry. Knitted hand painted wood beads body-skimming skirt with shining satin effect. Matching clutch adorned with a brass keyhole detailing.
- LOOK 14
Body-skimming bustier dress in black fluid stretch velvet, adorned with eggshell fringes plastron made out of sequins ribbons.
- LOOK 15
Asymmetrical body-skimming infinite draping dress in black stretch velvet, worn with hyper-realistic lion faux fur and resin handmade head on the sleeve.
- LOOK 16
House signature fragrance bottle Shocking! shaped tailored jacket in black wool crepe. Matching draped skirt in black light wool crepe.
The model wears a hammered brass and patina handmade giant’s head mask.
- LOOK 17
Extreme plastron in black velvet with gradation iridescent hand-sprayed green painting, embellished with a gilded brass and emerald green handfacetted broken glass brooch in the front, and lace-up details in the back. Matching long skirt.
- LOOK 18
Extreme plastron in black silk georgette fully covered in black mirror sequins, enhanced with sharp edges. It is worn with a black jersey long skirt along with an iridescent black basque in rooster feathers and handpainted black glitters.
Alligator skin signature Face mini-bag inlaid with 24-carat gold leaf.
- LOOK 19
Tuxedo ensemble with a House signature fragrance bottle Shocking! shaped tailored jacket in navy wool enhanced with hand-painted irregular tennis ecru stripes and matching pleated pants. It is paired with an ecru organic cotton shirt and a navy blue wool tie with hand-painted oblique ecru stripes.
- LOOK 20
Tuxedo ensemble with House signature fragrance bottle Shocking! tailored jacket with an impossible V neckline in black cotton velvet, enhanced with tonal signature measuring tape lapel and laced-up back. The jacket is adorned with hand-facetted broken glass black buttons. Matching ¾ length pants. It is worn on top of a white poplin tuxedo shirt with broken collar.
Bow tie in black faille.
- LOOK 21
Tuxedo wool crepe pants worn with the signature measuring tape brass belt and a hammered brass necklace set with broken amber handfacetted glass.
Anatomic finger rings in gilded brass.
Alligator skin signature Face bag inlaid with 24-carat gold leaf.
- LOOK 22
Halo effect plastron in black fluid stretch velvet adorned with vintage emerald green stones reimbrodered with beads, rhinestones and handmolded leather ornaments covered with 24-carat gold leaf. The piece is worn with high waisted pleated pants in golden bronze flecked wool suiting.
Dark gilded brass and hand-facetted emerald green broken glass flower ring with matching pendant earrings.
- LOOK 23
House signature fragrance bottle Shocking! shaped bustier dress in black silk georgette fully embroidered with molded leather covered metal sequins with matching long skirt.
- LOOK 24
Impossible V plunging bustier top in black velvet pinned with a leather and hand-facetted broken glass piercing at the center and enhanced with a corseted waist. Body-skimming skirt in silk georgette fully covered in black bugle beads and tubes glass fringes. Long gloves in black velvet.
- LOOK 25
Asymmetrical neckline bustier dress in black satin wool, worn with a corolla-effect black soft velvet stole.
- LOOK 26
Invisible knitted bustier dress embroidered with black beads and stones paired with a matching clutch.
- LOOK 27
Slip draped dress in black satin silk crepe and draped plunging back, worn over a black tulle skirt enhanced with silk satin faille umbrella volume bottom. Long gloves in black suede lambskin adorned with pierced black enameled fingernails.
- LOOK 28
Sheer ruffled dress in black silk chiffon and cotton tulle trimmed with a tonal black velvet strip.
- LOOK 29
Mini-dress with bare shoulders in black heavy leather.
- LOOK 30
Hand-painted faux fur coat in black silk and wool with hyper-realistic wolf head handmade in resin.
- LOOK 31
Slip dress in champagne silk satin crepe. It is worn with a draped black stretch viscose jersey all-in-one gloves and stole.
Pendant earrings in hammered gilded brass and hand-facetted broken glass.
- LOOK 32
Mini stiff bustier dress in champagne liquid velvet embroidered with satin strips covered with bows, paired with a matching corolla effect stole.