Emanuel Ungaro is a name with large standing in the fashion world, yet very few really know it. The historic French fashion house was founded by Ungaro in 1965, after the young designer had trained with Christobal Balenciaga. The house’s style throughout the following decades were exactly what comes to mind when you think of 1970s and 80s high fashion: provocative, daring, similar to the risks taken by those he rubbed elbows with – Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin and Jean-Paul Gaultier.
As interesting as Ungaro’s past might be, that’s what it is—the past. We’re now living in a fast-fashion, tech-based world. Everything is see-now-buy-now, click & collect, same-day delivery. News from two weeks ago is history, let alone storied fashion houses set up by designers trained by Balenciaga. So, is there really a place anymore for historic fashion houses? The answer is yes.
Enter Roy Luwolt, co-founder of Malone Souliers. Pretty much the epitome of cool, contemporary fashion, Luwolt’s artful and intriguing brand is a frontrunner in the footwear world despite only being four years old. Shoe design can easily fall into a monotonous routine, but never has with Malone Souliers. Just look at their AW18 collection, which was presented with shoes hanging from clothes lines, nude models painted to look like exposed muscle and bone, and live music. The shoes themselves were remarkable, made with animal prints, velvet, tweed, textures, and embroidery.
So clearly Luwolt was the right choice to help bring the house of Emanuel Ungaro into the 21st century. While continuing his Managing Director role with Malone Souliers, Luwolt has recently joined the Ungaro brand as CEO. His first big move was a pre-fall footwear collection designed in collaboration with Malone Souliers and its creative director, Mary Alice Malone.
The collection flawlessly united the heritage of Emanuel Ungaro with the contemporary appeal of the Malone Souliers aesthetic. “The inspiration for the collection came from the incredibly vast archives of Emanuel Ungaro,” Luwolt tells COOLS. “Mary Alice Malone reinterpreted the key themes from the French house, re-imagined and adapted them for the Ungaro woman today.” These key themes were blended with Malone Souliers’ signature silhouettes, like the Maureen, the Robyn, and the Imogen, all of which are utterly contemporary, complete with multiple straps, curving lines, and pointed toes.
When asked what is the biggest challenge in joining a historic brand, Luwolt answered, “Staying true to the heritage of Emanuel Ungaro while reintroducing the brand to the world of today’s girl and tomorrow’s woman.” While that might be a challenge, introducing historic brands into today’s world is the only way to ensure its survival. The fashion world evolves quickly.
A century ago, the notion of ready-to-wear was a new concept, fashion magazines were beginning to pop up here and there, and the term “fashion week” meant nothing. Ideas of fast-fashion chains and fashion bloggers would be completely lost on the haute couture houses that ran the fashion scene in the first decades of the 20th century. So clearly, it’s a huge shock that Anne Chapelle has re-opened the 115-year-old house of Paul Poiret nearly 90 years after its doors had shut.
The brief history lesson of Paul Poiret describes him as one of the first household name fashion designers, the father of haute couture, and the man who is often credited with taking down the corset, though the truth is that he merely changed the shape of corset from the traditional S-bend to something longer and more slimming. Despite how “modern” and ahead of his time Poiret might have been—he treated fashion as art, he fought copyists, he took inspiration from other cultures—the old house of Poiret has no place in today’s world.
The Belgian businesswoman has a hefty task ahead of her in bringing an old-world couture house back to life. As Roy Luwolt carried Emanuel Ungaro into 2018 through mixing the Ungaro signature aesthetic with fresh, contemporary ideas, Poiret made its debut into the 21st century with creative design choices that wove old into new. While Mary Alice Malone brought the traditional Emanuel Ungaro themes into contemporary silhouettes, Poiret’s creative director Yiqing Yin took silhouettes Paul Poiret loved and added her modern twist to them.
The house of Poiret made its grand re-entry during Paris Fashion Week, showcasing cocoon and kimono shapes, elegant drapery and dramatic coats. But what kept Yin’s collection grounded in today’s age were bright colors, trendy patterns, and metallic touches, not to mention the fact that this was a ready-to-wear collection as opposed to couture as Poiret created.
Roy Luwolt and Anne Chapelle are not the first to reinvent old fashion houses. The house of Schiaparelli was revived five years ago, though it hasn’t fully entered the 21st century, remaining within the couture world and closely following the Surrealist mission set forth by Elsa Schiaparelli. Today’s house of Schiaparelli is beautiful and nostalgic, a way to keep the grand couture tradition breathing amidst the fast-paced fashion chaos. Conversely, Emanuel Ungaro and Paul Poiret are finding a way to live in today’s world.
Our fast-paced lifestyles today make us nostalgic for historic fashion, the grand couture traditions, when fashion truly was an artform. We revive brands like Ungaro, Poiret, and Schiaparelli, trying to resuscitate that more evenly paced way of living. Maybe our sentimental tendencies reflect a glitch in our current way of life.