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Marco Zanini's Schiaparelli Couture Debut: Too Much of a Tribute?

As the designer attempts to revamp the house, he must walk the tightrope between past and present.
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When it was announced last fall that Marco Zanini, formerly of Rochas, would be taking the reins at Schiaparelli, there was much to-do and speculation about what the designer could bring to the revival of the brand, purchased by Diego Della Valle, head of the Tod’s group, in 2007.

For Zanini's inaugural couture collection, shown on Monday in Paris -- the first for the label since 1954, save for Christian Lacroix's honorary tribute last season -- Zanini did indeed tip his hat to the past. The first clue? The shocking pink carpets that lined the entrance to the Hotel d’Evreux, the morning’s venue, which served as an immediate signifier that heritage was on the brain.

Set to the beat of military marching drums, Stella Tennant opened the show, wearing a long strapless dress in royal blue, shocking pink and ivory, featuring a Le Ciel Etoile star print. The motif and vivacious color combination were reminders of Schiaparelli’s ties to the Dada and Surrealist art movements, and looked like something she might have hatched with long-ago conspirators, such as Salvador Dali and Alberto Giacometti. A highly textured silk brocade double-breasted jacket recalled Schiap’s 1938 Pagan collection, with its iridescent green ivy leaves and black satin puff sleeves, paired with flared pants. And then there were the large plant-like hats, nods to the famous shoe hats of 1933. But these obvious tributes begged the question: What exactly is the job of Zanini here? Is he to resurrect and reconfigure the iconic relics of Schiaparelli’s work, such as the lobster dress of 1937, or the trompe l’oeil “tears” gown (in collaboration with Dali) of 1938? Or is the designer to dream up fashions without constant references to the past? The collection Zanini presented reflected the problems inherent in this unanswered duality. But in a way, he is in an envious position. If he were to unburden himself from the pressures of history, he could truly make his mark, using his own voice. Either way, what Zanini showed felt less like couture and more like ready-to-wear in certain places. Cases in point: a black jacket worn over a long, printed silk charmeuse bustier dress; embroidered pajama pants with an asymmetrical black silk T-shirt; and a black wool tuxedo, complete with embroidered silk chiffon ruffles protruding from within.

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So, now there are two dilemmas: In the next few seasons, Zanini must decide whether the past will be hindrance or helper when it comes to his design ethos, and whether the brand really needs a couture collection.

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Long Nguyen is the co-founder and style director of Flaunt.

Photos: Imaxtree