It's official: Daniel Roseberry has yet to fail. Or at least, yet to fail at making a statement. Over the last four years at Parisian couture house Schiaparelli, Roseberry has made quite the name for himself when it comes to couture, despite his lack of classical training. Even with internet critics always looking for a reason to outrage— Roseberry has managed to cultivate a house mostly free of controversy. However, Monday's show has awarded the surrealist house its first major social media backlash.
Whispers began when Kylie Jenner appeared in what was soon-to-be unveiled on the runway: a floor length black gown with a lion's head attached to the shoulder. Later, Roseberry revealed his inspiration for the collection as being Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, a 14th-century poem that explores the author’s spiritual journey. Roseberry chose to focus on the use of beasts in the poem; “the leopard, the lion, and the she-wolf—representing lust, pride, and avarice.”
Each animal "head" was featured in its own look; the leopard on the bust of a gown (worn by Shalom Harlow), the lion on the shoulder of a gown (worn by Irina Shayk), and finally, the she-wolf across the shoulders of a coat (worn by Naomi Campbell.)
Despite their hyperrealism, the stuffed heads were artificial, created from resin, silk faux fur, and foam. Both Jenner and Roseberry added disclaimers to all of their social media posts that no animals were harmed in the creation of this collection. Roseberry even went as far as to share the creation process on his Instagram.
Despite these measures of tempering the show's shock value, the public reception was overwhelmingly negative. Accusations of animal cruelty began flying, perhaps a testament to Roseberry's skills in sculpture. Even after it became widely known that the heads were fake, critics still spoke against the show, feeling that even faux animal skins still encourage big game hunting and illegal poaching.
Animal rights are nothing new to me, but the backlash has me wondering: why this collection? No one bats an eye when it's lambskin or leather on the runway, and the infamous JW Anderson pigeon clutch was praised for its hyperrealism, appearing in the hands of Carrie Bradshaw on And Just Like That.... The animal heads shown by Schiaparelli were just as fake as the 3D printed handbag, and yet the reactions to each were polar opposite. So why Schiaparelli?
With the appearance of Jenner and a Swarovski-encrusted Doja Cat, the show began with a wider audience than normal, one that wasn't necessarily well-versed in the meaning of haute couture. For reference, haute couture is a highly exclusive and highly artistic form of dress-making. The general argument against Schiaparelli has been that the show glorifies animal cruelty, that it gives exaltation to the use of fur in fashion.
However, animal activist group PETA actually applauded the use of the artificial heads, stating, “These fabulously innovative three-dimensional animal heads show that where there’s a will, there’s a way." In fact, the use of faux fur has rarely been so publicly criticized, and neither has the use of faux leather, poly-blend silk, or other unnatural materials. The downside to haute couture is that it's often misunderstood by the public.
Oftentimes haute couture can be synonymous with unwearable qualities, and through the lens of consumerism, what could possibly be the point of unwearable clothing? While resin animal heads may be a bit derivative when it comes to the discussion of Inferno, it's an artistic commentary on the classic poem nonetheless. It's worth considering that the criticism of the Schiaparelli show may be less about the animal motif and more about the fact that the average person can't see fashion as an art form. For the first time in my life, I agree with PETA. The sculptures only add to the inventiveness of Roseberry's work, effectively solving the issue so many brands claim to have with replacing animal byproduct.
The criticism also distracts from the refinement of Roseberry's entire collection. From modernizing the house's classic codes to his precise attention to detail, all of the elegance of this season's couture show has been overlooked in favor of fanning the flames of this controversy. Regardless of your feelings on the use of faux taxidermy, it's without a doubt that this collection was successful in two things; in creating beauty and in inspiring a discussion. As Roseberry himself wrote, "I remember that no ascension to heaven is possible without first a trip to the fires, and the fear that comes with it. Let me embrace it always."