Buro exclusive: A conversation with Bertrand Guyon, design director of Schiaparelli

Buro exclusive: A conversation with Bertrand Guyon, design director of Schiaparelli

A new day

Text: Farouk Chekoufi Shannon Wylie Jolene Khor

On the 90th anniversary of Elsa Schiaparelli’s first haute couture show, Buro 24/7 tours the Parisian fashion house and sits down for a chat with the man behind the brand today

The year was 1927. Elsa Schiaparelli had just launched her eponymous brand, Schiaparelli. Her vision, time-transcendent. History remembers the trompe l'oeil sweaters with figures lent from her good friend and Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, and the La Robe Homard lobster dress worn by Wallis Simpson whose own reputation precedes the infamy of the dress.

Today, her sartorial spirit lives on through Bertrand Guyon, the creative designer largely credited for the Schiaparelli brand revival. The last looks of the spring/summer 2017 haute couture collection make their way into the archives, the mark of another successful season made all the more poignant on the 90th anniversary of the brand.

To commemorate this heritage hallmark, Buro 24/7 travelled to Paris to speak exclusively with Guyon. "Her legacy makes her one of the very few big names in 20th century fashion," he recalled. "She is legendary." By all accounts, Guyon is on his way to a similar status.

This is his story.

Elsa Schiaparelli

What is the ultimate signature of Schiaparelli?
Schiaparelli is about a style that is very personal, unique, full of fantasy, slightly alternative, never ordinary, quite distinctive, exclusive, of the utmost quality... with an obsession for detail and service.

Who is the Schiaparelli woman?
The Schiaparelli woman is elegant. She knows how to dress. Her taste reflects her strong personality. She is active. She travels. She likes people to notice that she does not wear something plain but something that has a certain poise and allure.

Is haute couture still relevant today?
Haute couture is all the more relevant now because each piece is a prototype, in the sense that each piece is like a laboratory of ideas and savoir faire. It is important more than ever because it involves perpetuating craftsmanship that would probably disappear if haute couture was not alive anymore. All of these incredible people create embroidery, work with feathers or horsehair, hand crochet at a level of mastery, creativity, inventiveness and modernity that is unparalleled. That is the real beauty of it! Of course, it has to be contemporary to also be relevant. Then there is what technology can bring to the equation and how both can merge to create something new. They complement each other.

What has changed the most since you began designing at Schiaparelli?
A lot has evolved since I joined in April 2015. What I am particularly proud of is that the spring/summer 2017 collection has met a real audience in terms of clients. It is our most successful collection to date. Women seem to relate to what we do. Our approach to Schiaparelli is slightly different compared to when I joined. I put a certain distance with the archives to get more thoroughly into a form of reality — a reality tainted with fluidity, wearability, and a sense of ease. At the same time, it gets ever more complicated, stressful and challenging. The first seasons, I guess you are quite unconscious of the task. I am more and more demanding with myself.

What motivated you to abandon a commercial post at Valentino for Schiaparelli, a largely sleeping giant at the point in time?
When I received the offer, it was totally unexpected. I had never imagined working here but when you know about the story and the history of Schiaparelli, it is simply impossible to turn down.

How did you know that designing was your calling?
As far as I can remember, I have always wanted to work in fashion. That passion was born when I was about five or six years old. I was already attracted to fashion magazines especially the ones dedicated to haute couture. Then, when I was about 15 or 16, I started sketching silhouettes and knew that I would go to fashion school, which would lead me to become a fashion designer.

“Schiaparelli is full of fantasy, never ordinary, quite distinctive, exclusive.” — Bertrand Guyon, creative designer at Schiaparelli

After all these years, what keeps you going?
What guides me is the passion for the beautiful, for the well-done, well-executed, for the savoir faire of the atelier and the artisans, for the exceptional, for the dream, for the unique...

Your collections are beautiful and wonderfully unique; what inspires your creations?
Thank you! It is quite difficult to put into words how the process works. It can come from a book, a movie, art... but never literally. They'll mix in my head and create almost contrasting equations that will ignite something. A lot also comes from the fittings. These hours we spend with the atelier team to try and try again, to do and do again... It is an evolutionary path necessary to translate the idea of a sketch into reality in 3D.

Wallis Simpson photographed by Cecil Beaton

Tell us about your version of the La Robe Homard.
The inspiration was the iconic 1937 lobster dress created by Elsa Schiaparelli in collaboration with Salvador Dali. Wallis Simpson ordered it for her trousseau, when she married the Duke of Windsor; he abdicated the throne of England for her. The Duchess of Windsor wearing the dress became history, thanks to the famous Cecil Beaton pictures, for which the reaction was quite scandalous in its own right, as the placement of the lobster, juxtaposed against the white dress worn by an American divorcee, triggered controversy.

As for me, I wanted to wait before giving my own version of the dress. After two years at Schiaparelli, I felt it was the moment to create a contemporary interpretation using a different technique — here, with embroidered applications — and other colours. It worked perfectly in the theme of the season.

Guyon's reimagination of the iconic lobster dress

You dress so many celebrities; what is the most beautiful part of dressing these women?
To meet an actress is always moving and surreal. Some of the actresses we have had the chance to dress include Kirsten Dunst, Tilda Swinton and Kristin Scott Thomas. They all embody the dress fully yet differently. They make it their own, which is quite fascinating.

How would you describe 'le rose shocking', Schiaparelli's signature colour since the 1930s?
It is this incomparable shade of pink that feels like life. You'll find a shocking pink look in every collection that is the backbone of the show. Even though Elsa Schiaparelli invented shocking pink, she did not necessarily use it all the time. But, my intention is to have this as a leitmotif each season, as it is one of the most iconic symbols of Schiaparelli.

What about you? What is your favourite colour?
I love all colours. But, I really love all shades of blue.

What does luxury mean to you?
Time is the ultimate luxury — the possibility of taking time to be on your own. It is a real privilege to be able be alone and feel happy about it.