The Controversy Behind the Schiaparelli Show: How Much Social Responsibility Does Fashion Have?

Haute Couture Fashion Week in Paris 2023 began with the controversy of the Schiaparelli show, in which three false animal heads were exposed.

Elsa Schiaparelli fashion show model

Photo: Kylie Jenner

LatinAmerican Post | July Vanesa López Romero

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Leer en español: La polémica detrás del desfile de Schiaparelli: ¿qué tanta responsabilidad social tiene la moda?

On January 23rd, the Haute Couture Fashion Week in Paris 2023 began, which presents the collections of the spring-summer season of the most important fashion houses. Schiaparelli is perhaps the most named so far this week. This parade was held the same day the event began and presented the conceptual collection "Inferno Couture", inspired by Hell from "The Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri, within which are the three designs that sparked controversy: dresses that expose the heads of a leopard, a lion, and a wolf, all false.

Schiaparelli's legacy

The first thing to take into account to understand the controversy behind the show is the conceptual legacy of this Italian fashion house. Elsa Schiaparelli, the founder of the brand, marked her designs with a clear love and inspiration for surrealism, so much so that several of her most famous dresses were made in collaboration with Dalí. This avant-garde style was maintained from 1927, the year the brand was founded, until 1954, the year the house closed its doors. In 2014, Schiaparelli was brought back to life by Marco Zanini and in 2019 he appointed American designer Daniel Roseberry as creative director.

To this day, people recognize Schiaparelli for maintaining its surreal style, its asymmetrical cuts, the use of accessories as the central axis, and its risky designs that were ahead of its time.

The controversy of the three heads

This risky characteristic is, perhaps, what led Roseberry to think of three dresses that would very literally represent the animals that Dante encounters in the first cycle of his journey in the "Inferno" poem: a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf that symbolize lust, pride and greed respectively. Three of the most important models of the 90s were in charge of wearing the dresses on the catwalk: Shalom Harlow, Irina Shayk and Naomi Campbell. In addition, Kylie Jenner, one of the most influential women in the world, was in the front row with the same dress that Irina Shayk wore, the one with the lion's head. The sculptural pieces drew all the attention thanks to their attention to detail, as they gave the impression of being real heads that had undergone a taxidermy process.

Also read: This Is the Controversy Behind Balenciaga's Apology

Although the catwalk initially received praise, at the moment the images began to circulate on social networks, the criticism came to light and, to this day, they have not stopped. Internet users pointed out that the pieces were reminiscent of hunters' trophies: stuffed heads hung on walls for display. The brand clarified through its social media posts that no animals had been injured in the making of the dresses, explaining that the heads had been made from moldable foam, resin, wool, and silky faux fur and fur.

However, the conversation progressed and came to problematize the message that this catwalk in particular could be giving, especially at a point in which the fashion industry is demanding environmental and wild responsibility. According to those who criticize this decision by Schiaparelli, this collection may lead to the purchase of clothes made with exotic skins, to the glorification of practices such as hunting and the objectification of animals.

But, on the other hand, those who defend the brand argue that the message may be the opposite, and that it is a call for the conservation of wildlife, especially species such as the snow leopard, which is in danger of extinction.

The truth is that both the brand and Roseberry have been clear that the concept of the show is inspired by the work of Dante, and at no time have they stated that these three dresses in particular were intended to be a message for or against a social movement, such as the fight against animal abuse. However, it is important to take into account that, despite the fact that the brand assured that there was no animal abuse in the production of the pieces, the use of wool and synthetic hair and silk fur requires a process in which both the sheep like silkworms are mistreated.

If something is clear from this debate, it is that not every artistic manifestation has to defend a postulate, and, until now, it seems that “Inferno Couture” does not. However, it is true that artistic manifestations do have a social responsibility, especially in an industry like fashion, which uses raw material for its compositions. Schiaparelli took this into account when working with materials that at first glance do not have to be involved in a process of animal abuse (although they are), but it is clear that Roseberry had to have anticipated the readings that would be made of his designs.

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