Humans’ anatomy is one of the most unpopular motifs in jewelry and fashion. We might like seeing body parts in photographs, we admire naked bodies on paintings, and we find beautiful the nudity sculpted in marble, but are we attracted to wearing a brooch depicting a naked butt? It appears that the design of garments, which cover and decorate the body, almost excludes parts of the body.
Almost, but not completely, as some of them have a symbolical meaning: hands and eyes, for example. Throughout most of human history, such jewelry pieces had a rather symbolic role (traditional Irish wedding ring Claddagh with hands holding a heart) or were used as talismans protecting certain parts of the body, body functions, or a sphere of life allegorically represented by certain body parts or an organ (hands were associated with harvesting, phallus – with soil fertility). Anyway, probably nobody would wear a pendant in the shape of a nose just for fun.
The first designer who included body parts in the language of fashion was Elsa Schiaparelli (1890 – 1973). She was a kind of typhoon of innovative ideas between the two wars. She was the first one to use synthetic fabric, visible zips, designing strong-shouldered coats and suits, etc. Elsa absorbed new trends as soon as they began to emerge, extracted the best from them, and created things aimed at shocking the public.
From her close friendship with surrealists, she brought bizarreness, humourism, and human body motif to fashion – as corporeality and sexuality were integral parts of the surrealism paradigm. The first “anatomical” piece of Schiaparelli was a belt with hands hugging a waist than was followed by embroidery imitating hair on jackets’ shoulders, gloves with red “nails”, a bra with a silhouette of hands holding breast – a bit weird for us, imagine how it felt in the 1930s’. What was the message of these strange designs? To shake a burden of untouchability off the corporeality, to have fun, and… to shock, of course.
The next to refer to human anatomy in his creations was Bruno Martinazzi (1923-2018), an Italian jeweler, sculptor, philosopher, partisan – one of those who people call “Da Vinci of our time”.
Martinazzi started his series of body-pieces at the end of the 1960s and kept making them until the 2010s. The anatomy of Martinazzi is of a different kind. It’s nudity of almost classical antiquity type, with its soft lines, opaque surface of gold, balanced shadows, and highlights. The body parts he was interested in depicting were those responsible for sensory perception and expression of feelings: lips, eyes, hands, breast. In his artworks, parts of the human body don’t look shocking or provocative. Instead, they look like the most natural thing (as they are in fact) in a lyrical, intimate interpretation. What elevates this sensitive tactile side of his creations is the fact that all of the pieces used to be handmade by the artist using tools, which he made by himself. That would give the ornaments a kind of shamanic touch, a veil of spiritual contact with the creator.
The fashion house of Schiaparelli was closed down in 1954 and reopened in 2006. For all these years till 2019 Schiaparelli kept a pretty low profile, far from Elsas’ drive, you know what I mean? The one to breathe life and bold creativity into the Maison was Daniel Roseberry – a young designer who joined Schiaparelli as artistic director in 2019, after more than 10 years at Thom Browne.
The Spring/Summer 2021 Haute Couture Collection of Schiaparelli is a vivid confirmation of that. It’s a sparkling mix of contemporary designs and homage to the brand’s past, to the period of Elsa’s surrealistic creations and collaborations with Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dali. For example, there is a fashion quote – a cape with embroidered hair, or earrings in a shape of an eye with a tear, or a dress in shocking pink color, which can be considered as a brand’s twist since the 1930s. These are greetings to the glorious past, Avant-guard from those times.
For today Schiaparelli it couldn’t be enough. Being a post-post-modern world fashion house, the Maison plays elements of different epochs: Hellenistic muscle cuirass became a rigid dress and a corset, gold funeral mask (like the one Agamemnon had) is back as a bizarre accessory. Even the Nursing Madonna iconography appeared in the collection as a sort of embellishment, which Precious Lee tried on for the collections’ campaign. Ornaments in the shape of teeth, lips, and pierced nipples seem pretty sane next to them.
Would you call Schiaparellis’ S/S 2021 shocking? I wouldn’t. There are so few things which can shock us in 2021, ear-earrings with earrings (I really wanted to write it) are definitely not among them. I see this collection as a successful attempt to shake up the world of Haute Couture, to bring in something more than mere technically complicated dresses and flawless handwork, but also art and memorable inner smiles.