Reviving long-dormant fashion houses to turn them into profitable brands has become a recipe for success in the luxury industry. In the early 1990s, labels such as Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta – even larger ones like Louis Vuitton and Dior – had been largely relegated to the dustbin of history. It was thanks to the business prowess of groups like LVMH and Kering that they ended up becoming global household names. The journey to success, however, is often fraught and rarely happens overnight. Schiaparelli, the French couture house founded in 1927 by Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli, was once a competitor to Chanel and one of the most revered fashion names in the first half of the 20th century. Her pioneering collaborations with Surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau are part of the canon of modern fashion. From her use of “shocking pink” to creations such the “lobster dress” and the “shoe hat”, she built a rich and irreverent vocabulary that, at one point, made it the buzziest brand in Paris. In 2007, Italian businessman Diego Della Valle, owner of the Tod’s Group, bought the rights to the Schiaparelli name before relaunching the brand in 2012. The first few years of the new Schiaparelli, which operated mainly as a haute couture maison – making custom creations for wealthy clients – were a series of fits and starts, with different designers and muses helming the house with mixed results. This long gestation period, however, allowed the new team to establish a full couture atelier in Place Vendôme, Paris, where Elsa Schiaparelli had founded her brand, and to build the foundation for a complete rebirth under a little-known Texas-born designer, Daniel Roseberry, who took over as creative director in 2019. “Looking back, it’s as if the maison was almost getting ready for the big unveiling,” says Roseberry when we meet him at the Schiaparelli headquarters. “They were looking for someone with a certain disposition and me being an unknown, it meant I wasn’t going to bring an entourage of new designers. It was important to them that I wasn’t coming in and firing anyone. “It’s a very French team, and it’s to their credit that they were willing to follow a new direction and work with someone not trained in couture.” The cliché of the American in Paris has long been a trope of movies and books, but for Roseberry, who is still learning French, it was a bit of a different story. Only a few months after he moved to the French capital, the coronavirus pandemic struck, turning the city into a ghost town and allowing Roseberry to immerse himself in work. “Covid was like this bubble where we could work and focus, like a clean slate,” he says. “I feel I thrived under those circumstances.” And so did the brand. Schiaparelli is a Covid-19 success story. While it happened gradually, the blossoming of the label under Roseberry has been remarkable, especially for a small brand whose name even fashion insiders have a hard time pronouncing. “Nobody knows how to pronounce Schiaparelli but everyone knows what it means.” Roseberry loves this quote from Elsa Schiaparelli and always keeps it in mind in his approach to design. He says that, before his arrival, the house had been a bit too deferential and respectful to the designer’s legacy and that from day one he wanted to shake things up – but “step by step”, without completely ignoring what Schiaparelli stood for. “I was proposing a direction of the house that was about the future and right now rather than looking back, because that’s not what Elsa would have wanted,” says Roseberry, who didn’t delve into the archives until after he debuted his first collection in July 2019. “You have to walk a line between paying homage and being respectful. Schiaparelli was an innovator and she’d be disappointed if she woke up today and saw a lobster on a dress.” Roseberry has quickly built a strong visual vocabulary, which is his as much as Elsa Schiaparelli’s in spirit. His predilection for gold hardware – a nod to a gold sphinx brooch that sculptor Alberto Giacometti had made for the label’s founder – often paired with black garments, has become a striking signature that has made Schiaparelli a red-carpet favourite. As Roseberry explains, for a small brand with no advertising, the red carpet is an excellent opportunity to create exposure. When Kim Kardashian wore a moulded six-pack leather bodice and green silk velvet skirt for a holiday party in December 2020, it set off “a chain reaction”, he says. Lady Gaga in a dramatic navy jacket paired with a red skirt and a dove peace brooch at the 2021 inauguration of US president Joe Biden, Bella Hadid in a black dress with a gold-dipped necklace in the shape of lungs at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival – these appearances too helped cement Schiaparelli as the go-to brand for those who like to dare without looking like they’re in costumes. “I’m biased, but our moments have been really special,” says Roseberry. “Sometimes there are so many award shows and you forget right away [ …] our moments really stood out.” Creating viral Instagram looks is one thing; achieving commercial success is another. Roseberry has managed to do both. He says that the couture atelier is filled with orders for “strong, sculptural pieces that look unique”, reflecting how customers as well as celebrities are taking more risks and “want to acquire pieces that look like art and speak to something really personal to them and reflect something about them to the world”. Roseberry attributes his ability to combine creativity and commerce to being “a child of ’90s pop culture”. “It has been really important to me to make sure that the work is connected to that – not necessarily to mass appeal but to people in a mass way – and to capture something of the zeitgeist,” he says. “I don’t want to make work in a vacuum, but I wouldn’t say we tried to make it commercial because Schiaparelli is this pure creatively led luxury house. We’re led by creativity, not marketing plans.” This month, an exhibition about the work and life of Elsa Schiaparelli opens at Paris’ Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which is part of the Louvre. Some of Roseberry’s pieces will be displayed alongside her creations, shining a bit of the spotlight on the humble American who has finally done justice to a long-forgotten treasure and turned it into the hottest brand of the moment.