Did Schiaparelli’s Animal Heads Go Too Far?

As a Swarovski-covered Doja Cat took her seat at Schiaparelli’s Spring 2023 Haute Couture show in Paris on Monday morning, a fashionably late Kylie Jenner spurred an internet uproar with her entrance. Wearing a black gown donning a very-realistic lion head on her shoulder, she provided a first look at what was to come on designer Daniel Roseberry’s runway: a series of man-made, severed animal heads.

In look 10, Shalom Harlow wore a hand-painted wool and silk bustier dress with a snow leopard’s oversized head jutting out from her chest. Irina Shayk, in look 15, sported an identical iteration of Jenner’s lion-head creation, and in look 30, Naomi Campbell took to the runway in a faux-fur-covered coat with a big wolf head planted on its left shoulder. The collection featured several pieces worth discussing, but the aforementioned ensembles commanded the conversations that followed entirely.

“NO ANIMALS WERE HARMED IN MAKING THIS LOOK,” Schiaparelli wrote under images of the animal-head designs on its Instagram, preemptively addressing backlash from those who might call the line a glorification of animal hunting. Jenner did the same, with a very detailed description of the piece’s design process: “I loved wearing this faux art creation constructed by hand using manmade materials.”

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Once in the hands of social media, the collection’s taxidermy-like designs became the center of fashion’s latest controversy: did Schiaparelli’s lifelike animal heads showcase the House’s couture expertise, or did Roseberry simply go too far?

In this season’s collection notes, Roseberry provided some context. The designer was galvanized by Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century poem, The Divine Comedy, which explores the author’s spiritual journey through 14,233 lines and three books: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. Specifically, Roseberry cited his sources in Inferno’s animalistic symbolism: “the leopard, the lion, and the she-wolf—representing lust, pride, and avarice.” Thus, the controversial animal heads, or “faux-taxidermy creations,” as Roseberry calls them, were born.

Made from hand-sculpted foam, resin, wool, and silk faux fur, the pieces looked to highlight “the glory of nature.” And the realistic results were intentional. “In this collection, you’re never quite sure who made the piece you’re looking at,” Roseberry added. “Was it nature? Or was it man?”

For many, the reference did not translate. In fact, it landed far, far away from its target. To the majority, the creations appeared to glamorize poaching and validate arcane practices that harm endangered animal species, not recount Dante’s paradise-bound journey of trial and tribulation.

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Aja Barker, the author of Consumed, wrote, “I mean, the planet is dying and I think we’re past the point of putting animals on clothes in this way. This one was a massive fail for me.”

Supermodel Christie Brinkley also expressed her dislike for the designs. “It’s sickening to see the images of these endangered animals in the form of pelts! It looks as though the models picked up the cruel hunters carpet and severed head wrapped them around themselves to be viewed as a stylish thing of beauty,” she commented on Schiaparelli’s post.

Others, however, approved of the faux-taxidermy, reading the designs as a nod to Elsa Schiaparelli’s history of surrealism and an intentionally ironic statement on the absurdity of wearing real fur.

On Diet Prada’s post, which surprisingly supported the collection’s controversial animal heads, one user wrote, “For goodness sake people — it’s faux fur, that’s the whole point. Subverting the idea of wearing real fur and making a joke of the idea that we ever thought that was acceptable. At worst, they’re beautifully crafted, very realistic teddy bears.”

Here, it’s important to define couture: it’s an outlet for designers to take risks with avant-garde artisanship and highly-intricate techniques. Roseberry’s craftsmanship was undoubtedly visible, but his inclusion of severed animal heads still proved largely tone-deaf in the modern day, where the fight against animal cruelty is universal and bans on the sale of fur are becoming commonplace.

Perhaps, though, this ruckus was what Roseberry wanted. Concluding his show notes, he alluded to stirring a storm of his own. He wrote, “It is a reminder that there is no such thing as heaven without hell; there is no joy without sorrow; there is no ecstasy of creation without the torture of doubt. My prayer for myself is that I remember that always — that, on my most difficult days, when inspiration just won’t come, 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.”
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