Thursday, March 1, 2007

Mischa, Marisa and an Aussie model trifecta: Dior's curious salute to Schiap

I'm mixing it with anywhere up to 1000 showgoers inside a large show tent that has been erected in the Jardin des Tuileries. We are waiting for the Christian Dior show. Judging by the two grandiose white staircases which bookend the stage at the back of the runway, it's going to be an elaborate production. The backdrop is painted dove grey, the signature colour of the haute couture house.

As with Versace on Friday, it's a tight space.

The runway is so wide, there is barely room between the front row and the media packs that are roaming, looking for celebs. Although they are at present only mildly interested in a gaggle of French celebs who have turned up, the snappers jump to attention at the sight of Mischa Barton.

A furious media scramble ensues, although this time thankfully without the runway-vaulting addition of Marie Claire Australia editor Jackie Frank. I'm sure Frank is in here somewhere but for the mo at least, she's keeping her distance.

I manage to squeeze into the pack and ask Barton one question before security intervenes. Actually security has already intervened by manhandling the scrum, and even some hapless passersby trying to get to their seats.

This is Paris - the private security personnel here have a tendency to act like they're the police. Believe me, it pisses a lot of people off.

Since Barton was in Australia last year as the guest of David Jones, I had heard that she is still complaining about her treatment at the hands of the Australian media. Prompted by a question from one [in fact SMH] journalist at Barton's media conference - did she knew the name of the designer whose frock she was wearing? (she didn't) - other outlets picked up the story.

I ask whether Barton thinks she was given too hard a time in Australia over the gaffe.

"About designers?" she replies. "Oh, that was silly. Whatever. I mean that was one writer's choice".

Lights down. A single mannequin walks to the middle of the stage above the stairs and strikes a pose. She is wearing a conical hat made from what look like frathers - but I later learn are blades of tinted straw - and a brick red leather tailleur with nipped-in waist, pencil skirt and ballooning fur sleeves.

It's an impossibly elegant tableau - like a cartoon caricature of a 1950s couture show. She descends the staircase and is followed by more models, each more elegantly-clad than the last.

The voluminous coats and capes have gargantuan fur collars and cuffs. The tailleurs have draped skirts, big shoulder pads and crystal embellishments.

The shoes have enormous chunky heels and platforms and are covered in studs and straps - reminiscent of the shoes worn by women in Paris during the Occupation (the more outrageous the platform - and hat - the bigger the "F*** you" being served to the Nazis, or so was the intention at the time apparently).

The hats are fantastic - yet more cones and a series of asymmetric cocktail hats which suggest the time frame of Dior's creative director John Galliano could in fact be the 1940s. And quite specifically, the work of one couturier, Elsa Schiaparelli. The colours are sublime: hot pink, chartreuse and tangerine, interspersed with barely-there putty and dove grey.

As they walk to the end of the runway each model strikes a glamour pose. The closer they get the easier it is to see the styling, which includes the kind of false eyelashes normally tailored to drag queens and Galliano's trademark black stickon brows.

By the time it gets to the big dresses - statement gowns with enormous tiered skirts in duchesse satin, one dress with a black and white sequin-embellished strapless bodice and voluminous hot pink tulle skirts - I start to wish that I had seen Dior's most recent haute couture show in January and all the incredible workmanship there. This seems a little Dior couture Lite. Of course it is - it's ready-to-wear. Either way, it's a magnificent show.

I already knew that Catherine McNeil would be doing the show, but spot Sydneysider Alexandra Agoston-O'Connor on the runway. Now modelling fulltime, Agoston-O'Connor in fact walked in Dior's January show.

I head backstage afterwards to find her and others and wait while two dressers unbutton and peel off the long violet gloves she was wearing to go with her grape-coloured, column. She's a tall girl but in those monstrously high heels, Agoston-O'Connor looks like a small giraffe. While I am waiting to talk to her, I spot Gemma Ward who I did not even realise had been in the show. With all the hats and styling, it was hard to make out who was who.

We had a quick chat:

I heard that you might be back this week to do a couple of shows. Did you do Balmain on Sunday?
Gemma Ward: No I've just done Balenciaga and Dior.

You've been working on a couple of films haven't you?
Yeah, I just did a film in Australia.

How did it [The Black Balloon] go?
It was really, really great, thank-you. I had a great time.

When is that coming out?
I think maybe the end of the year for the film festivals and then next year.

I think you've developed an American accent.
Have I? Well I didn't notice.

What about the other film?
It's called The Strangers. I think that comes out this Halloween.

How are you balancing the two?
Yeah it's trying to keep both in place at the moment. It's a lot of work.

Which do you enjoy the most?
I can't say. Because I really enjoy going between the two because it's almost like you're on a film set and then kind of ease into the schedule and you get to know everyone. Fashion is so fast, fast, fast, go, go, go. But then after a while you kind of want to get back in that again so both of them kind of even each other out and keep each other exciting.

There were three Australian models in this show, did you realise that?
[Surprised] Really?

Apart from Alexandra Agoston-O'Connor, there's Catherine McNeill - have you heard about her?

From nowhere, she has just done all these major shows.
[Sincere - and enthusiastic] Wow. That's great.

Everyone always talks about 'the next Gemma Ward' but she really does appear to be just that. You had an exclusive with Prada in your first season though didn't you?

Last week she opened Missoni, Alessandro dell'Aqua...
No way! That's great.

It's kind of an Australian invasion of the runways then isn't it?
[Emphatic] Yes. I would hope so. I love Australians.

Is that unusual on this side of the world?
Yeah. Kind of.

Do you think there's a sudden flavour for Australian models at the moment?
Yeah - oh well I don't know. But I'm keeping my eye out for them.

What's your position on the skinny model situation? There was some speculation this time last year that you in fact weren't quite so skinny....
Well, you know, again I don't want to comment on that.

I wait in line to interview Galliano but then spot Barton en route out the backstage exit. Here's what she had to say about the show:

Mischa Barton: I thought it was gorgeous. I thought all the girls looked amazing and the clothes were great colours and great cuts.

Would you wear anything in the collection?
There were some there that I think were very wearable and really gorgeous, yeah.

What about the hats?
The hats were crazy. They were great though, I mean it's a whole look.

Kate Bosworth came to Australia recently as well, to the Melbourne Cup and they couldn't get her into a hat. Think it might catch on?
Catch on? I don't know - yeah maybe! It would be quite good if everyone started wearing hats again.

I return to the queue, which doesn't appear to be any shorter, and despair. I have one other opportunity to talk to Galliano this week - after his Saturday night show.

As I ponder leaving to catch the next show, American actress Marisa Berenson walks to the backstage exit as well.

Berenson, it should be noted, is Schiaparelli's granddaughter. She's a regular at these shows but her presence today is serendipitous.

Or is it? According to reports in WWD, Italian group Tod's SPA quietly acquired rights to the Schiaparelli brand and since July last year, there has been speculation about a Schiaparelli revival, with everyone from Giles Deacon to Behnaz Sarafpour, Matthew Williamson and Olivier Theyskens - obviously before Theyskens was lured to Rochas - floated as potential designers. There has however also been speculation that Tod's might offload the brand. An interesting one to watch.

Here's the Q&A with Berenson:

Did you enjoy the show?
Marisa Berenson: I adored the show. I thought it was extraordinary. I thought it was just elegant and glamorous and there's a need for that again. And [for] I think a lot of dream in this world that is cold and hard and difficult. And in those moments where you know one can sort of bring beauty and joy to the way one looks and feels and just spending half an hour looking at these clothes is enough to give one an 'up'.

I was trying to work out the exact period while watching the show - it seemed both 40s and at times, 50s. But your grandmother was also working much earlier than that.
My grandmother was 30s and 40s and it's very much inspired by that era, by all those colours - 'Shocking Pink', she was the one who really was the queen of Shocking Pink. And all those incredible embroideries. She inspired so many people.

Did you know that was going to be the theme before you arrived?
No, I didn't. It was a surprise. I thought it was just a wonderful surprise.

So what was it like growing up with the grande dame of surrealist couture?
She was an amazing woman. But you know when you grow up with somebody like that you, retrospectively she had stopped designing. So when I was little I didn't see that whole side of life.

But there would have been incredible archives etc...
Oh yes of course I have the archives.

Do you think it's a shame that the Schiaparelli brand now consists of not much more than some stockings?
Oh I do, I do and I think it's going to probably come back.

Really? Who actually owns the Schiaparelli brand?
[Evasive] I don't know that I can say...

Somebody that she licensed it to presumably?
No - it's been bought but it hasn't been announced yet.

Do you have something to do with it?
No - I have nothing to do with it.

So we may see a renaissance of Schiaparelli in the not too distant future?
Well, you may, yes. I think it should be. It's been a while since I think somebody should take that name and do something with it. And I'm hoping that they're going to do something great with it.

Who would you like to see design it?
I don't know. That's something that I'm wondering actually.

Would you have any kind of consulting role?
I don't think so. For the moment it's just happened so I'm not... I think it hasn't been announced yet.

Private equity group?
No no.

Big company then?

Oh - like LVMH?
Something like that.

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