With his latest couture collection, Pierpaolo Piccioli brings further glory and modernity to the house of Valentino. Take a closer look to witness these gowns tell the shared story of today.
Entering the Paris headquarters of Valentino in Place Vendôme makes you feel like a child again; awakening memories of visiting a more formal relative’s home, with your mother reminding you to wear a clean shirt and be on your best behavior. The space feels palatial and serene, and the high ceiling salon walls are adorned with intricate gold molding. Light is abundant, shining through big windows that frame the bronze Vendôme column, right in the beating heart of Parisian luxury.
As I’m escorted into one of the rooms, I’m asked to not take any pictures, as some of the looks I’m about to see have not been revealed to the public and are only on display for an exclusive preview granted to Vogue Arabia ahead of Valentino’s couture show in Venice, which would take place two weeks later. Looking around me, I spot a magnificent gown made from a patchwork of pink and purple fabrics, a white maxi cape and dress with a splash of red, and a skirt and jacket suit that, at first glance, remind me of a Miró. There are also paintings and drawings next to each look, motioning that there is some sort of artistic collaboration behind each design. In the best Valentino style, all feels grand and regal, and from that moment on, I knew I was in for a treat. Let’s not forget that Pierpaolo Piccioli, the brand’s creative director and naturally the author of the looks, is known for big statements. So big, that they brought Céline Dion to tears at one of his previous shows.
As Piccioli enters the room, wearing jeans, sneakers, and a T-shirt, the ambiance becomes more relaxed. After he lights the first cigarette, the conversation flows. Piccioli starts by explaining that this couture collection is the result of a collaboration with 16 artists, handpicked by him. “More than ever, I’ve been feeling that we need to connect, and I always enjoyed being around other creative people,” he says. “This was my way to start a conversation with a community that shares the same values.” Relying on instinct, Piccioli had a simple approach, selecting artists that he liked and came across organically. The list is eclectic, with names hailing from all over the world, such as Wu Rui, James Nares, Patricia Treib, and Francis Offman. “The only rule was to listen to my feelings, and the goal was not just to do a show packed with artists. It is more like a collective effort, like an orchestra I’m conducting with different instruments, where each one plays in his own way. But when they are together… The result is beautiful music.”
Although the collection is connected with the arts, Piccioli firmly believes that the worlds of art and fashion are apart. “This might sound provocative, but I don’t believe that fashion is art,” he states. This is probably the only point where we disagree, especially after he takes me one floor up, where we sit at the end of a runway where models walk so close to us, we can analyze every single stitch or embroidery in the clothes they are wearing. The dresses feature a virtuoso use of colors – potent plum and berry red next to splashes of forest green and royal blue. Other models appear nonchalant, in sparkling mini culottes, bustiers, and feather headpieces. It all feels deliciously kaleidoscopic. “Aren’t all these colors hard to combine?” I enquire. “Not if you are good,” Piccioli laughs. “If not… That’s a problem!”
One of the novelties on the Valentino couture runway is the inclusion of male models. Piccioli explains that this is nothing but a sign that times are changing, and that the fashion world has the responsibility to lead these changes. “As a designer, you need to have a loud voice, even if your medium is only the images you produce, which can be so powerful,” he shares. “After the pandemic, our world lost boundaries and changed, and there are no more divisions of gender. Just go to the street and see what kids are wearing: from capes to makeup. Couture is all about this uniqueness, and fashion needs to celebrate these shifts. But we cannot be late; we need to lead with our voice.”
Being ahead of the social and cultural movements is something deeply connected with the work of Piccioli for Valentino. One of his disruptive moments happened during the SS19 couture presentation, when discussions around inclusivity and representation were starting to erupt in the fashion world. Making a bold decision, the designer cast 39 Black models to walk his runway, with Naomi Campbell closing the show with regal strides. Piccioli also stopped using fur, one of the previous staples of the maison. “I don’t think we will miss fur,” he says. “Even the humblest fabric can look rich if you treat it the right way.”
As models continue to walk and turn before us, I inquire why the show is taking place in Venice and not Rome, the city where Valentino was founded in 1960 by Valentino Garavani and Giancarlo Giammetti. It is also the birthplace of Piccioli, who worked at Fendi for 10 years before joining Valentino as an accessories designer, in 1999. He took the creative reins of the house in 2008, alongside Maria Grazia Chiuri, becoming sole creative director of the maison in July 2016, when Chiuri exited for the top creative role at Dior.
“We chose Venice not because of its architecture or grandeur, but because we wanted to be part of this moment of authentic Italian culture during the Venice Biennale. Being there means a lot,” he says. This doesn’t imply that Piccioli loves Rome any less, as the capital is a continuous source of inspiration for him. The city he describes as being full of layers, where a simple stroll down the street can inspire new ideas, and where ancient churches coexist with Fellini and Pasolini-like sets, always reminds him of the importance of pushing his vision to its best. “When you work in Rome, you can’t compete with Caravaggio or Bernini,” he concludes. “So, you do what you can…”
All clothing Valentino
Style: Claire Carruthers
Hair: Flavio Santillo at Making Beauty Management
Makeup: Arianna Campa at Blend Management
Style assistant: Valentina Rossi Mori
Casting director: Troy Westwood
Digital tech: Elio Rosato
Light tech: Pietro Frizzi
Production: Federica Marchetti at Atomo Management, Max Brunetti at ForProduction.it
Model: Ayak Veronica at Marilyn Agency