PARIS — The couture schedule in January could be left with a gap, given the surprise exit of Marco Zanini from Schiaparelli after only two seasons.
This story first appeared in the November 10, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
A Schiaparelli spokesman said a spring-summer 2015 collection would be readied for clients, but the format for any presentation has yet to be decided.
Hired to revive a brand that had been dormant for 60 years, Zanini staged two shows, receiving mostly plaudits for bringing some flamboyance and eccentricity to the high-fashion scene. But on Friday, Schiaparelli issued a terse press release revealing the end of its collaboration with Zanini and a promise to “announce its new creative director soon.”
The statement added, “The house of Schiaparelli is looking towards its future while transcending the aesthetic codes created by Elsa Schiaparelli. It follows a dynamic where a contemporary spirit meets its founder’s daring personality.”
Schiaparelli officials, including owner Diego Della Valle, declined further comment.
WWD reported on Nov. 3 that Schiaparelli and Zanini were headed for a divorce, with the Italian designer said to be unhappy and one source claiming Zanini felt that the label “is not exactly his fit.”
On Friday, one market source said Zanini left on “creative issues,” as Della Valle “did not let him do his job” and “did not like his designs.”
Although a powerful entrepreneur with multiple investments, ranging from RCS MediaGroup to coffee-machine maker Bialetti to motorcycle firm Piaggio, Della Valle surrounds himself with a group of loyal and trusted associates — mostly women — who advise him on fashion projects and may have planted the seed of discontent.
One retailer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, suggested that Della Valle’s plans for Schiaparelli are not yet clear, saying, “It’s too bad because Zanini is serious and professional. Brands such as Schiaparelli need real investments. Perhaps Della Valle should have started with licensing projects, such as a fragrance.”
Another retailer was displeased with the news, saying that Zanini, who earned notoriety as the designer of Halston and Rochas and cut his teeth at Versace, is “a new voice that was forging an identity for the brand.” Zanini’s next move could not immediately be learned.
Meanwhile, sources floated the names of such diverse talents as Olivier Theyskens and Olympia Le-Tan as possible successors. One source pointed to Alessandra Facchinetti, creative director of the women’s collections for the Tod’s brand and formerly at Valentino, Gucci and Moncler, as a possible candidate. Della Valle also controls Tod’s parent company, Tod’s SpA, which includes the Hogan, Fay and Roger Vivier brands, too.
Zanini’s exit represents another snag in the long quest to revive a brand synonymous with shocking pink and Surrealism-influenced designs.
Della Valle quietly bought the trademarks and archives of the late Paris couturier in May 2006 and frequently described it as a future project.
The Italian business titan unveiled the brand’s comeback in May 2012, in tandem with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute exhibit that put the spotlight on Elsa Schiaparelli, a Roman designer seen as a key rival of Gabrielle Chanel. Della Valle started out by hiring Paris fashion personality Farida Khelfa as the spokeswoman for Schiaparelli, then tapped Christian Lacroix for a one-off collection that was never sold and, finally, enjoined Zanini to take on the couture, with future plans to launch luxury ready-to-wear, dubbed prêt-à-couture.
No doubt Zanini faced considerable hurdles at the start-up, given that Della Valle’s main expertise is in leather goods, not apparel, and his reputation for taking a hands-on approach at his various brands.
“Della Valle’s forte is accessories, shoes and bags. I don’t know how much he really believes in rtw and I don’t really see him backing a couture project, independently of whoever designs the collections. He is a man of numbers,” said one market source.
Recently, Schiaparelli delayed plans to sell a very high-end range of rtw at its headquarters here at 21 Place Vendôme. Zanini’s final fall-winter 2014 couture included sunglasses, gloves and handbags, hinting at future expansion vectors.
Sources also highlighted the perils and difficulties in reviving historic or dormant brands.
“Schiaparelli’s is a theoretical project, very difficult to make it contemporary and it needs huge investments,” said Milan-based marketing and strategic consultant Armando Mammina, who believes a brand such as Schiaparelli, starting from the couture segment, needs “at least five years” to be embedded in the consumer’s mind and to become aspirational, with a budget of at least 10 million euros, or $12.4 million at current exchange, in that period. “Everything is positioned at the highest level without any certainty of break-even after a future launch of rtw. To make this investment profitable only with couture is absolutely not possible and perhaps not enough for a designer as talented as Zanini to stay on.”