Marco Zanini

As creative director, Zanini is charged with reawakening a sleeping beauty, a brand that is inextricably linked to its founder, Elsa Schiaparelli.

MILAN — In his new role as creative director of Schiaparelli, Marco Zanini is charged with reawakening a sleeping beauty, a brand that is inextricably linked to its founder, Elsa Schiaparelli — a formidable woman known for her unique talent.

This story first appeared in the October 1, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In an interview Monday, shortly after the company confirmed his appointment, Zanini said that he was “very happy” and upbeat about the prospects. “The biggest and most interesting challenge is to bring Elsa Schiaparelli’s legacy to the present and the future. She had an exceptional, incredible and intelligent approach; she was ahead of her times. The most interesting thing is to make her contemporary and current.”

Zanini will be responsible for the couture and the “prêt-à-couture,” or high-end ready-to-wear, collections. His first collection will be unveiled in January during Paris Couture Week.

“The project is based on excellence and quality, and a product linked to the future. I think my great passion for these elements played a key role in my appointment,” said Zanini, citing his long-standing “research for fabrics and sartorial quality.”

WWD first reported April 16 that Zanini, who just exited his role as creative director of Rochas after five years, could be on his way to the storied brand.

While the emphasis at Schiaparelli was initially expected to be on accessories, fragrances and cosmetics, along with some clothing, Zanini said “the global relaunch of the brand and its development will comprise all classic categories.” Although the brand has made fashion history, Zanini conceded the company “will work on brand awareness” from a vantage point of a “unique and unchanged” status in fashion, art and culture, and “the highest relevance in the world of creativity.”

Born in Milan in 1971 to a Swedish mother and an Italian father, Zanini will be based between Milan and Paris, where the brand is headquartered. He studied at the Fine Arts Academy of Brera in Milan and in 1995 began to work as an assistant to Lawrence Steele, joining Dolce & Gabbana in 1998. A year later, he moved to Versace, where he became responsible for the women’s rtw and Atelier lines. In 2007, he was tapped to rejuvenate Halston but left after two seasons and introduced his designs for Rochas in Paris for fall 2009.

Tiziana Cardini, fashion director at Italy’s upscale department store La Rinascente, hailed Zanini’s arrival at Schiaparelli as a good marriage with strong potential. “I hold Zanini in high regard. He has proven he has a personal vision, bringing his own style to a maison such as Rochas that didn’t have it,” said Cardini. “He will do very well at Schiaparelli. His designs are elegant, sophisticated, eccentric and have a touch of quirkiness that fit the brand.” Cardini recalled how Elsa Schiaparelli was associated with artists, an angle that “is very interesting” in light of the brand’s positioning. “The label has a special vision and a unique product, and there is room for growth if Marco respects the essence of the brand, which is couture with a strong, spectacular and daring component, and elements of experimentation,” explained Cardini.

Paola Brandi, founder of Paris-based brand development agency INKParis, who is also a contributing lecturer at Paris fashion school Esmod, said Elsa Schiaparelli, together with Madame Grès, Madeleine Vionnet and Gabrielle Chanel, are “fashion heroes, inspirational women and great innovators” who influence her students to this day. “When she was alive, she was an international talent, across borders, from city to city, and the relaunch today could work well if it is meant to be global — not that of an Italian brand based in Paris,” said Brandi.

As for whether Schiaparelli could be eyeing a new customer base in emerging markets, Brandi said that “Asia is a very difficult region to launch a brand, I see more potential in America, even more than in Europe. ”

Brandi underscored that Zanini added modernity to Rochas, an “effortless elegance and functional glamour” that have appealed to the modern woman, including bloggers, who “are a force in fashion.” While remarking on Elsa Schiaparelli’s uniqueness, how she was a “restless creative mind who took huge risks,” Brandi believes Zanini has not played all his cards yet. “There is more to him than what he has revealed so far,” she said, citing his minimalist streak as well as a more “flamboyant and surrealist spirit,” noting his passion for Tim Burton films.

People will listen to him, and that could serve very well in marketing. He was free to create an aesthetic for Rochas, and Schiaparelli is largely unknown to the new generations, so he can interpret her spirit in different ways,” said Brandi.

Diego Della Valle, chairman and chief executive officer of Tod’s Group, acquired the Schiaparelli trademark and archive via a personal holding, Diego Della Valle & C. S.A.P.A., in 2006, and has the means to support the revamp of the brand. A savvy businessman, he has a diversified portfolio of investments, ranging from fashion and media to sports, manufacturing and transportation, including stakes in Saks Inc.; motorcycle firm Piaggio; iconic coffee-machine maker Bialetti, and RCS MediaGroup, which owns the newspaper Corriere della Sera. Della Valle was unavailable to comment on Zanini’s appointment.

Schiaparelli closed her Paris house in 1954 and died in 1973. The brand, dormant for decades, gained major exposure in 2012 when New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted the exhibition “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations” at The Costume Institute.

Headquartered on the Place Vendôme, Schiaparelli invited Christian Lacroix to design a one-off collection, which it exhibited during couture week in Paris last July but did not offer for sale.

Della Valle named Farida Khelfa, a muse and close collaborator of designers Azzedine Alaïa and Jean Paul Gaultier, spokeswoman of the house in May last year. A month later, Camilla Schiavone, previously brand manager of L’Oréal’s fragrance division, was appointed ceo.

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