Daniel Roseberry’s designs for Maison Schiaparelli are persuasive for those who need convinced that fashion is a kind of art. Consider one look from his most recent haute couture collection: two fabric “gazelle horns” embroidered with gold lamé thread, gold pearls, gold cut beads, handcrafted gold pom-poms, Swarovski crystals, and rhinestones extend from a wool crepe dress.
Surrealist dress for the modern period, created by a young American couturier
A matching helmet hangs over the horns, and a pair of gilt brass nipple buttons hang below. As Roseberry puts it, “this isn’t cookie-cutter fashion.” This is a significantly more extraordinary situation. Dresses are voluminous, shoulders are accentuated, materials are luxurious, and the detailing is exquisite (signature jewelry items, or “bijou,” are shaped like eyeballs, noses, hands, and lips). The Surrealist references and somewhat perverted edge add to the beauty of the compositions. On the surface, it’s difficult to picture these ideas coming from an unassuming, born-and-raised Texan who says, without irony, that he’d happily live in a cabin in Maine for the most of the year and design garments from there.
“This is my life. My personality and emotional reality are diametrically opposed to the work I want to produce “He says this in an interview days before his new collection is shown in his Parisian atelier on Place Vendome. Roseberry, from Plano, Texas, was chosen artistic director of Schiaparelli at the age of 33, making him the first — and to this day, the only — American to oversee a French couture firm. At the time, he was hardly a household name. He had the qualifications, with a degree from New York’s Fashion School of Technology and ten years at Thom Browne under his belt, but no experience at the helm of a luxury fashion firm, no formal training in haute couture, and no knowledge of French.
He also had to deal with the house’s founder, Elsa Schiaparelli’s, looming legacy. She was a true rebel, possibly the most important and influential designer between the wars, a designation only Coco Chanel, her arch rival, could challenge. Schiaparelli, who was born into an aristocratic Italian family, rebelled at a young age by writing “Arethusa,” a volume of sexually charged poetry named after a Greek nymph. She was transferred to a Swiss monastery, but she bolted after going on a hunger strike. By the early 1920s, she had married and divorced, and she and her daughter had moved to Paris, where she led a bohemian lifestyle and made a group of artist friends. Schiaparelli started her fashion company in her apartment in 1927, swiftly developing and becoming increasingly creative and inventive. Schiaparelli designed one of the most renowned gowns in fashion history ten years later, reflecting on her friendship with Spanish artist Salvador Dal.
The silk organza dress with a huge lobster painted onto the skirt was a sign of the times
and very avant-garde — at the height of the Surrealist movement. Schiaparelli’s revolutionary designs, however, did not keep her out of the spotlight. She was the first female fashion designer to appear on the cover of Time magazine in 1934, and she later appeared as a special guest on “What’s My Line?” in the United States. Schiaparelli closed her firm in 1954 after decades of success; it sat dormant until it was relaunched by businessman Diego Della Valle in 2012. So Roseberry must have been nervous when he stepped into the atelier two months before he was set to present his first collection for the brand in 2019? He declares, “Ignorance is joy.” “I had 63 days for the first collection when I started, and I honestly didn’t have time for anxiety. There was no time for a nervous breakdown. It was quite stressful.” Despite his baptism by fire and two years marked by the Covid-19 outbreak, the designer exudes serene confidence. “It’s weird,” he says, “because I could lose sleep over going to a dinner party that I’m afraid to go to, but I’m not really losing sleep over my work.” “I’m really comfortable with what I’m doing.” “Being an American offers me a sense of perspective, and perhaps even more of a sense of freedom,” he adds. Roseberry has definitely spent time learning about the house and its founder’s past. He knows everything there is to know about Schiaparelli’s life, career, and archive. He respects history while simultaneously focusing on developing his own unique language, or “codes,” as he refers to them. In referring to the exclusive character of high fashion, he says, “I think people have this image of couture, that it exists inside of a glass box.” “Over the last two years, a lot of what I’ve attempted to do is smash those glass barriers and truly reveal the process.”
Roseberry is a designer who works with her hands
From the first concepts to the final campaign shoot, he’s there every step of the way, working closely with his team. “You hear stories of designers that don’t show up or only show up once a month. That’s something I can’t imagine, “he declares Roseberry even positioned himself on the catwalk during his inaugural runway presentation. The designer arrived at his drawing table as the lights came up (a homage to his former studio in New York’s Chinatown, where he scribbled his early designs for the label). Models whizzed by, bringing Roseberry’s sketches to life while he sketched live on stage. One of the designer’s hidden talents, according to him, is sketching. Roseberry has been drawing since he was a toddler, taught by his mother from an early age, and it’s become “the core” of his creative process, according to him.