In just a few seasons, and at the peak of a global Covid crisis, Daniel Roseberry has revived Schiaparelli’s house and playful spirit. And not a single lobster in sight…
In one of those incredulous and unpredictable moves of destiny, Daniel Roseberry was in his Chinatown studio, jobless, and with no plans, when he received a call that led him to something he recalls as an “out-of-body experience.” After working 10 years alongside Thom Browne, in an important but almost invisible role he had held since graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology, the time had come for Roseberry to come out of someone else’s shadow. In April 2019, he was announced as artistic director of the mythical couture house of Schiaparelli. The transition from the raw and noisy streets of New York City to the heart of Schiaparelli’s pristine Place Vendôme headquarters might sound like a fashion fairytale, but Roseberry didn’t have time to wait for any magic to happen. With his move to Paris done in just two weeks, his debut couture runway presentation would take place in two months hence, and the world had its eyes on him.
“When I started it was such a rush to put that first collection out… And I had to have a real crash course in couture,” he recalls on our Zoom call. “I came in as a total unknown, as an outsider, and couture was not part of my experience as I’m not classically trained in it,” he continues. “On my first day, I had a suit on as I was trying to dress up a bit for everyone at the Place Vendôme atelier, and my heart was beating in my throat. I came modestly, but at the same time, I knew I had to come in strong and give the team a vision they would believe in, enough to follow a guy coming from the United States who had never done couture before.”
A sleeping giant of the fashion firmament, the house of Schiaparelli was originally launched by the eccentric Italian aristocrat Elsa Schiaparelli, Coco Chanel’s forever rival who had no technical training whatsoever, but compensated with an incredible magnetism that allowed her to surround herself and collaborate with some of the most iconic artists of her time, such as Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau. Her surrealist designs are museum worthy and instantly recognizable, from the lobster dress to pieces adorned with statement zippers (before then, zippers were always hidden), or the creations she would wrap directly and instinctively on a mannequin, many times in what became a signature shocking pink. After shutting its doors in 1954, the label has been trying to come back to its glory days ever since its 2014 relaunch by Italian tycoon Diego Della Valle – first with Marco Zannini at the creative helm, and most recently Bertrand Guyon. Would Daniel Roseberry, a 33-year-old with only one design job behind him, be up to the challenge?
Roseberry was cautious, but not scared. For a start, he had a clear plan in his mind. “To be totally honest, I’ve always felt that this was coming, and I’ve spent my entire life preparing for this moment,” he confides. “Previously, when I was out of employment, my mother reminded me that I had to take a leap of faith, so I spent six months of uninterrupted creative time for myself, researching, looking through everything, and building a thesis of what I wanted my vision to be. When Schiaparelli came into the picture, I had a period of time to explore what moves me, and I figured out really quickly how to apply it to the maison.”
It was with this confident attitude that for his first runway show at Schiaparelli, Roseberry positioned himself literally at the center of the action, sitting at a drawing table placed in the middle of the runway, headphones on. As the models paraded around him in extravagant designs, it was as if the action was unveiling poetically in his head and in the sketch book in front of him. If anyone was expecting to see lobsters and other literal Schiaparelli inspirations, they would have been disappointed. “I had no interest in echoing the archives,” Roseberry justifies. “In the past few years, the brand has been heavily inspired by its heritage, so, in order to change the conversation, it was important that there were no references. It was more about capturing the spirit and the bravery of Schiaparelli.” On the runway, this reflected in a kaleidoscopic color spectrum, avant garde cutting techniques, and silhouettes with blown-out proportions.
If Roseberry is successful in evolving the Schiaparelli narrative, his work leads the industry to dive into much wider topics, such as rethinking how couture should look today, and how its clientele has progressed. Just have a glimpse at his latest collection, catapulted to Instagram stardom after Kim Kardashian wore one of the key looks to a Christmas party: a skirt with a dangerously high slit paired with a solid bustier of warlike inspiration, creating the illusion of a muscular, almost masculine, torso. I move on to read his own words, quoting a previous interview – “If you want to look like a cupcake, go somewhere else”– and he laughs. “Our eyes are trained to look at couture in a certain way, full of these ballgowns produced to make women look as feminine as possible,” he asserts. “Elsa Schiaparelli had a very interesting expression, ‘hard chic.’ When I was creating that look, I thought, will people understand the muscles? But I love to blur the lines and I believe that women and men today are much more interested in pushing the boundaries of everything, couture included. Many of our clients don’t see themselves in these huge dresses anymore…” Born in Texas, Roseberry is the son of a pastor, and shares that he was “pretty hard on myself growing up.” In love with the world of fantasy, his dream was to become a Disney animator, and he was always dragging his family to Disney World. But an interest in fashion eventually took over, most notably after attending his brother’s wedding in Lubbock. His sister-in-law wore a dress that “was a copy of a Carolina Herrera gown,” and when it was time to do the 14-hour drive to return home, he drew wedding dresses for the entire ride. “Then it was kind of, that’s it, I know what I want to do.”
Along with always supporting his talents, Roseberry’s parents also offered him a well-grounded education, where the sense of mission and care for others was not forgotten. In fact, the designer spent some time in the Middle East, part of a small missionary team administering supplies to Iraqi refugees. And just like that, the exploration of the region started, with other visits to Jordan, Israel, and Pakistan. “Very often I didn’t feel safe, but personally, I had an incredible time. I was blown away by the generosity of the people. I was also stunned by how beautiful the men and women are.”
Back in Paris, with no thanks to Covid, fashion brands are struggling to create those “wow” moments that allow them to be part of the zeitgeist, but at Schiaparelli, things couldn’t be going better. “Our CEO came into the room where I was working and said, ‘Daniel, I need to talk to you for a second,” remembers the designer when I ask him about the headline-making dress he recently designed for Lady Gaga, worn during the most important event in recent American history. The statement navy blue and red look, adorned with a golden dove, was one of 11 sketches submitted by Schiaparelli for Gaga’s national anthem performance during Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration. Roseberry didn’t want to get his hopes up, since other brands had also created looks for the singer. When the moment came and Lady Gaga took to the stage for one of her most iconic performances, it was another out-of-body experience for the young designer. “I didn’t know she had chosen us until she walked out and I saw her on TV. It’s hard even to describe it,” he remembers fondly. “It took me 30 minutes to even check my phone, as I just wanted to absorb the moment and be with the team. We were finishing a collection and even if she hadn’t worn our dress, the process just brought us closer together. It is an honor of a lifetime, and I’m just humbled to also be part of this moment of American history and of Lady Gaga’s career.” Not that Daniel Roseberry seems like the type of designer who needs anyone’s approval, but if you ask us, no doubts that Elsa Schiaparelli would be proud.
Originally published in the March 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia
Photography: Julien Vallon
Style: Lisa Jarvis
Hair: Sadek Lardjane
Makeup: Marion Robine
Creative producer: Laura Prior
Photography assistant: Florent Vindimian, Heloise Dombreval
Models: Rouguy, Renata at The Claw Models