How Schiapparelli adapted “The Divine Comedy” of Dante.
“Then lo, not far from where the ascent began, / a Leopard which, exceeding light and swift, / was covered over with a spotted hide / […] / but not so, that I should not fear the sight, / which next appeared before me, / of a Lion, / […] / and of a she-Wolf, / which with every lust / seemed in her leanness laden,” so Dante describes his encounter with three beasts. The three animals are one of the most famous trios in the history of medieval literature, despite the fact that it is still unclear what the Supreme Poet meant when he used the Italian word “lonza,” which is thought to have been a cat of some sort, a lynx, a leopard (which is also the animal the translator identified the “lonza” with), or a panther.
Daniel Roseberry specifically mentioned the three of them when he said that for his Haute Couture collection for Schiapparelli, he faithfully replicated the heads of the three animals to create entire outfits. This outraged social media activists who firmly believed that the brand had killed real animals to create the looks, prompting us to wonder what they would have thought if human heads had appeared on the Gucci runway a few years prior.
To the dismay of medievalists and Dante scholars who by this point will already be attached to the oxygen tank, Schiapparelli’s brilliant designer actually seems to have completely missed the deeper meaning of Dante’s allegory when she wrote in an Instagram post that the looks are “celebrating the glory of nature and guarding the woman who wears it.” Instead of the original meaning of a man getting lost among vices without being able to recognize the path of moral goodness, the context in the letter to the press was more specific, and it was clear that the images of the three animals were related more to the opening of the Divine Comedy, with the poet getting lost in the dark forest being understood as a metaphor for the creative facing the void that precedes creation. The “black forest” has consistently served as a metaphor for the uncharted creative territory where “everything is scary but new, where I would be directed to a location I didn’t know and didn’t comprehend.”
A metaphor used in the show notes to express how inventive techniques were used throughout the collection: «the ultra-worked skirt is not ornamented in fabric but covered with wooden beads, the sequins quivering on some dresses are actually produced from sheet metal plates coated in leather. The iridescent sheen of the velvet column dresses is actually a hand-painted pigment that, like a butterfly’s wings, changes color depending on the angle at which it is viewed. Additionally, mother-of-pearl strips with an inlay of lemon trees have been used to carve the plastrons.
The show notes mention the following, which is suggestive but may be incorrect math given that there were 32 looks in the collection, which is 11 more than there should have been if there were three looks for each of the nine circles of hell, further reinforcing the connection with Dante (even the collection was titled Inferno). However, they are nuances. Roseberry paints a rather forced but ultimately lyrical Dantean metaphor against a collection that is, as usual, spectacular: «There is no heaven without hell, no joy without agony, no ecstasy of creation without the torture of doubt. […] No ascent to paradise is possible without going through fire and experiencing the associated fear. No less, mentioning such a significant literary figure as Dante is a little bit more than audacious («This arrogance of theirs is nothing new,» a disillusioned Dante wrote in the eighth canto), especially if the individual looks in the collection are not so closely related to the themes of the actual literary work referred to. However, since we are discussing a Haute Couture collection and not its paratexts, we can set overt creative hesitances aside and say that Roseberry is still the greatest designer we know of and that his current Couture is among the best in Paris of the Couture week.