How is it that in 2018, an African reference on a catwalk looks like a bold statement? Bertrand Guyon said his spring couture display for Schiaparelli was a nod to founder Elsa Schiaparelli’s Pagan Collection of 1938, best known for its Surrealist beetle necklace and gold leaf embroidery.
His modern-day interpretation ranged from blouses embroidered with bugs or trimmed with feathers, embellished safari jackets worn belted over shorts, and ethereal gowns with beaded or embroidered designs evoking a fantasy jungle.
“It was an evocation of an imaginary voyage — a Renaissance-era Lady from Scotland or England traveling to ancestral Africa — but it wasn’t a collection about Africa per se. I wanted to revisit the idea of goddesses in the natural universe,” he explained backstage after the show.
A nude nylon bustier dress was beaded with tiny white pearls that subtly evoked face painting designs. Gilded butterflies flitted across a black gauze ballgown, while Swarovski mother-of-pearl lilies and irises crawled up a monastic white cape dress, one of several bridal looks that closed the show.
Plenty of couturiers have paid homage to faraway cultures: Yves Saint Laurent, Jeanne Lanvin, Jean Paul Gaultier and Azzedine Alaïa, to name just a few. But in an era of rampant political correctness, some designers say they are hesitant to use ethnic references for fear of being accused of cultural appropriation.
Guyon said it was more a case of cultural appreciation. “I’m very sensitive to the cultural identity of every country and region, not just those seen as exotic, such as Africa, but also cultural identities within a country, like France,” said the designer, who hails from Brittany, which has its own dialect and Celtic culture.
Indeed, he made sure to showcase his designs on a diverse cast, sidestepping a criticism often leveled at Western designers. And there was nothing gimmicky about his vision, which used the full potential of the house’s ateliers.
Particularly striking was a woven silk and banana tree fiber bustier dress that sprouted bands of colored raffia fringe. Fashion thrives on flights of fancy, and fortunately, it’s also becoming more inclusive. Isn’t that something to celebrate?