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The Designer Ushering a Couture House Into a Brave New Era

Elsa Schiaparelli, who fled her conservative Italian family and con man of a husband to become one of fashion’s great iconoclasts. And so it’s only fitting that, for his debut as artistic director at the house, founded in 1927, Daniel Roseberry began with an origin story of his own. On the first day of the Paris couture shows this past July, the handsome 33-year-old sat down at a drafting table positioned in the middle of the runway inside the Pavillon Cambon, on a set meant to resemble the unheated Chinatown studio in New York where he created his first set of drawings for the brand last December. As the designer picked up his pencil, the lights went up and the models appeared, his sketches coming to life. There were no lip brooches or skeleton dresses; none of the totems Elsa made famous. Instead, Roseberry put forth his own proposal for fearlessness and surrealism, a celebration of both material craftsmanship and the female form. There were wild takes on suiting — a long navy captain’s coat trimmed at the sleeves and bias in flat gold leather bands resembling ruffled military ribbons worn over a delicate black-and-white lace bodysuit; a sharp barathea tuxedo jacket with 117 dangling crystal tassels, each affixed to the garment with a single scarlet-lacquered acrylic fingernail — and fantastical evening looks, some with bedazzled breast cups in ruby, diamond and sapphire hues that appeared to float on their own above heavy raw silk tulip skirts in chalky blue, sunflower yellow or acid green. For the finale, two gowns — one sheet white, the other a wild rose pink — pushed the idea of illusion further still, with supple silk taffeta that billowed out and above the models as if a gust of Marilyn Monroe-style wind had blown these confections toward the heavens and frozen them in that moment. Here, as in the original house of Schiaparelli, there was no place for self-doubt.

Thom Browne, most recently as design director, where the women’s wear is emphatically cerebral, crisp and covered-up, he saw an opportunity at Schiaparelli to embrace the body — to reveal it, to venerate it. Diego Della Valle, chairman of Tod’s S.p.A group, acquired Schiaparelli in 2006, and for Roseberry, the responsibility and opportunity of reviving the house is an orientation point, a liberating ethos, an invitation to engage more deeply with the furnishings of his own imagination. It is, he tells me, his dream job.

Tim Blanks. During his adolescence, his father took a public stance against homosexuality. “I almost didn’t do fashion because of this fear I had of my own body,” he explains. “I was so locked in this other world.” At 19, Roseberry spent a missionary year in the Middle East. He briefly considered the seminary himself before moving to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, where he found himself drawn to the sensuality of Azzedine Alaïa, the emotive exuberance of Christian Lacroix and the cool, intellectual futurism of Nicolas Ghesquière. It wasn’t until after fashion school (he dropped out to work at Thom Browne in 2008) that he finally came out of the closet. “My parents have always been the biggest supporters of me as a creative person,” he explains. “I think if they haven’t really known how to be supportive in other areas of my life, it all got channeled into this.”

Elsa’s contributions to fashion ultimately had less to do with iconography and more to do with an individual spirit and the convention-defying innovations of a woman who was largely untrained in the technical aspects of dressmaking, such as exposed zippers and intuitive draping. Roseberry aims to keep that sense of transparency and inquiry alive, updating it for a pragmatic, multiplatform age. Indeed, the brown paper wrappings of a past lunch delivery have become a print for a ready-to-wear chino pant, and the cerulean tracing paper he uses for pattern-making inspired an embossed leather coat for an upcoming collection. “I wanted to clean everything up and make it super modern, sporty even, but still maintain this very generous, dreamlike quality,” he says. “That’s the kind of alchemy that doesn’t exist right now.”


Models: Diarra and Katia Andre at Elite, Sijia Kang at Silent and Liza Makeeva at Next. Hair by Ramona Esbach at Total World. Makeup by Erin Parsons at Streeters using Maybelline New York. Manicure by Julie Villanova at Artlist Paris. Casting by Liz Goldson. Paris production: Rouchon Paris.

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