With names like Givenchy, Christian Lacroix and Valentino on his CV, Bertrand Guyon was appointed the Design Director of all Haute Couture and prêt-à-Couture collections of Schiaparelli in 2015.
We chat to Bertrand Guyon about his creative energy, the influence Elsa Schiaparelli continues to have on the house and his latest couture collection.
How would you summarise Elsa Schiaparelli?
She was daring. Elsa Schiaparelli was an entrepreneur (even though she started somehow late as she was 37) and a real businesswoman. She was strong, independent, free and contemporary. She managed a business at a time when it was not so common for a woman to do so.
What influence does her legacy have on the house today?
It is the reason why Schiaparelli is at 21 place Vendôme again. She is one of the very few iconic names of 20th century fashion history. She pioneered so many elements that it would be impossible to name them all. But, our mission today is to keep that spirit alive and translate it so that women can relate to what we do collection after collection.
What would you say is her most iconic piece?
If I had to keep one piece, that would be the “Phoebus cape” because it is a cape, it is shocking pink, it is embroidered, it features a gold motif, it features the sun, it is from the 1938 Astrological collection. So all these elements are simply what Schiaparelli stands for.
If I had to pick another one, I would add the “Neptune” cape that is somehow the black version of the former.
They are among the most magnificent pieces she has ever created. The cape is so iconic of Schiaparelli. Shocking pink, black and gold are also the Schiaparelli colours.
How has Schiaparelli evolved since you started designing?
After more than three years at Schiaparelli, collection after collection, we have been able to attract loyal clients and new ones every season. Even though it is only about Haute Couture, it is a reality. Also, the resonance of the name is more and more meaningful. I am proud that Schiaparelli has again an international recognition through the press, through the beautiful actresses we collaborate with and through our clients coming from all over the world.
Your most recent Couture collection paid tribute to Elsa, was it difficult to choose the themes you wanted to focus on?
The theme of a collection comes very naturally to me. This collection was no exception. It was obvious for me this season that I would focus on Elsa herself. It is difficult to express it in words. It is like an ignition that I feel at the beginning of a new season. But, then again, it is a main inspiration around which I add other elements freely.
Which look did you sketch first when creating the collection?
The outfit that became look #2 (pictured right). My first idea for the season was this fitted jacket with big 3D pockets with a leopard print worn with leopard embroidered pants. The tailored jacket and the maxi pockets are so iconic of Schiaparelli together with the leopard print that she loved and wore so much.
The headpieces were wild! What prompted that?
This season, I really wanted to collaborate with Stephen Jones. I had this idea of creating a 2018 real life version of the flower head that comes on the Shocking (the fragrance) bottle that had been created by artist Leonor Fini in 1937.
This starting point led to the idea of masks as I included many animals in the collection. Hence, a fantasy fauna including a winged leopard’s head, Popcorn – Elsa Schiaparelli’s fox terrier but this time with feather ears.
It was a nod to Elsa and her love of animals, her passion for dogs, but all in a witty, fun and quirky way. Also, I added pink flamingos for instance. They have nothing to do with Schiaparelli’s heritage, but, I love them (and they are pink!).
What is the secret to constantly innovating an iconic brand like Schiaparelli? Especially in the world of digital and social media.
Not sure if there is a secret. What I can say is the love one has for the house of Schiaparelli. If you do not genuinely love the house you work for or if you don’t really love the founding designer, it is going to be really hard. I feel that the more time passes, the more I love her. The more I love her, the more I respect her. It has become a real intimate relationship between her and me. The secret could be around this respect and trying to be loyal to her spirit.
What do you think of the way that women dress today?
Today’s women know exactly what they have to wear or want to wear. They have an expressive opinion on this matter. Designers are here to create collections. But, women are the ones who ultimately decide. They are the ones who make fashion.
Also, I must say that the wardrobe of a woman who works and who lives, say, in Paris, London or NYC has not really evolved for the past 40 years. You will always find the same fundamental clothes. Accessories will evolve. But, the basis is here and is more or less the same.
Will we be seeing more of Schiaparelli in the Middle East?
Only future will tell.
Describe the view you’re looking at today.
I am in my office that is on the 5th and last floor of the couture house. The door is closed. We are shut from the outside world. Walls are painted midnight blue. It is my own world that I created. There is no outside view as the shades are deliberately down. It is decorated with lots of objects, full of furniture. It is intimate, cosy and protective. I totally feel at home. If there was a bed, I could sleep here.
Among the décor, I will mention the portrait of Elsa Schiaparelli by Maurice van Moppes that hangs in front of me. It belongs to the company. But, I cherish it. It is one of my favourite portraits of her. I look at it everyday. I feel her gaze is extremely benevolent. It is really something intimate that I feel. I love the colours and the style of this painting.
Do you have a favourite quote?
Something that Hubert de Givenchy once wrote to me: “I hope you will love your job as much as I loved it.”
What’s on your playlist?
Lots of things, all very different. But, at the moment, I listen to Depeche Mode on and on.
Can you share with us a life lesson that you would like to pass on?
I feel that Hubert de Givenchy has been such an influence on me. Funnily enough, there were many things I did not understand at the time I was working with him. I was very very young. What I came to know now is this unconditional love of his job and of being serious about it. This awareness of doing a great job that you enjoy and gives you so much fulfilment. These are real lessons I learnt from him.
I often think about him and what he taught me over the 6 years I worked with him, in retrospect.
For instance, at the time, getting to the office at 8am sharp was extremely demanding. He was very rigorous. He was so precise, organised and disciplined that now I understand how crucial it was and still is. He has really shaped my professional attitude towards work and somehow personal life as well.
It is a very simple life somehow. But, it has become a reference to me.
Can you share with us another brand which you respect?
Besides Schiaparelli, I love what Monsieur Yves Saint Laurent created. He is one of my favourites together with the houses/designers I worked with (Givenchy, Lacroix and Valentino).
If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
An interior decorator/gallerist.