Chanel's menagerie of animal-themed sculptures for its spring-summer 2023 haute couture show
Image: Stephane De Sakutin / AFP
Who would have thought it? Although adored by the public and coveted by the biggest luxury houses, the front row guests were somewhat overshadowed by a surprise cast of participants in the first shows of Paris Haute Couture Week. From the she-wolf at Schiaparelli, to corgis at Chanel and a blue whale at Rahul Mishra, the real stars of these runway shows were none other than animals, whether for better or for worse.
Nature is an endless source of inspiration for fashion, but rarely before have we seen so many animals on the catwalks of Haute Couture Week. Whether as an ode to the fauna threatened by global warming, a nod to the return of some wildlife to the French capital, or by simple coincidence, animals are currently out in force on the Paris catwalks. And it's a choice that's not (necessarily) popular with everyone, depending on how these beasts are represented. From Schiaparelli to Chanel, here's a look at how the big names in fashion are putting animals at the heart of their haute couture collections.
Surrealism at Schiaparelli
In keeping with tradition, the Schiaparelli fashion house opened the current week dedicated entirely to haute couture, and there's no denying that this first show had a major impact. A real tribute to the surrealist fashion of its founder—the designer Elsa Schiaparelli, whose lobster dress became a signature piece—the show was inspired this time by "Dante's Inferno," and more particularly, by the wild animals encountered by Dante while wandering the dark forest. And it was Kylie Jenner, a prestigious front row guest, who was first to stun onlookers, stepping out in front of the crowds in a sumptuous black strapless dress adorned with a huge lion's head. The outfit largely met with exclamations and whispers, until the collection's first looks were unveiled on the catwalk.Also read: Boom time for menswear as Paris Fashion Week returns
Irina Shayk took to the runway wearing the same lion's head as Kylie Jenner, Naomi Campbell wore a she-wolf's head, and Shalom Harlow a leopard's head. The looks came, one after another, lifting the lid on a veritable menagerie of creations that left no one unmoved. While the new Schiaparelli collection features around 30 looks, it is these creations in particular that went viral online—and especially on social networks—in just a few hours, provoking reactions ranging from admiration to emotion to anger, but by no means indifference.
PETA soon had its word to say about the show, albeit with slightly varying stances. The American arm of the animal rights group seemingly defended the creations: "Kylie's look celebrates lions' beauty and may be a statement against trophy hunting, in which lion families are torn apart to satisfy human egotism," PETA president, Ingrid Newkirk, told TMZ. Back in Paris, the French branch appeared less supportive: "While art, including fashion, can be subjective, Schiaparelli's claim that 'no animals were harmed' in the making of this collection is objectively false. ... Silkworms were boiled alive and sheep were exploited for their fleeces to obtain the silk and wool used in making these garments," it said in a statement. But ultimately, whether criticism or congratulations, all these reactions served to shine the spotlight on this catwalk show while garnering much media attention.Also read: Rahul Mishra evokes mysteries of the 'Cosmos' in Paris for Haute Couture Week
Poetic moods at Chanel and Rahul Mishra
The mood was different at Chanel's show, held at the Grand Palais Ephémère, where the set design immediately set the tone. Guests discovered a more minimalist decor than usual, featuring a collection of monumental sculptures by French artist Xavier Veilhan. Works included a camel, an elephant, and of course a lion—an animal dear to Gabrielle Chanel—from which models emerged, themselves wearing outfits embroidered with the animals featured in this poetic and magical menagerie. The two most striking pieces were a suit with a sequinned corgi on the jacket—possibly a nod to Queen Elizabeth II, who died in September—and the traditional wedding dress, worn by Anna Ewers, featuring a mini-length cut and a flight of swallows.
It was marine fauna that the designer Rahul Mishra put at the heart of his spring-summer 2023 haute couture collection, entitled "Cosmos." Rich in embroidery, dresses as delicate as they were sculptural offered glimpses of whales, schools of fish, jellyfish or seaweed and shells. The highlight of the show was an imposing gown in the form of a jellyfish. This meticulous work serves to celebrate the featured marine animals, all while showcasing a fantastical universe. It remains to be seen if other fashion houses have planned to feature animals in their collections, especially at a time when many species are facing the threat of climate change.