Valentino’s genderless couture celebrates the human hand in the digital age
Pierpaolo Piccioli’s SS21 haute couture collection for Valentino was all about the emotion of craftsmanship, to beautiful result.
Courtesy of Valentino
Fashion is a paradox. Though it is an industry that sells us dreams of timelessness and eternal style, it is fundamentally about the ephemeral: the new, the now, the next. Haute couture, however, really is about timelessness, an antidote to disposability and flash-in-the-pan trends. It takes thousands of hours to make and serves as a bespoke service to individual clients. Valentino’s SS21 haute couture collection explored that notion, with Pierpaolo Piccioli giving his collection the title of ‘Temporal’ and dedicating it to clothes made by hand that are designed to outlive fads and trends. Each of his looks was constructed as one piece, the fabric becoming the embellishment (there wasn’t a feather or embroidery in sight), and named in honour of the Roman craftspeople who painstakingly created them with their own hands. “They celebrate the human: the mind that conceives and the hand that creates and gives value,” Pierpaolo said in a statement. “Through a work process that sits above time, they produce timeless objects moulded on the individual.
Part of the Pierpaolo’s genius with this collection was taking quotidian garments — pullover sweaters, trench coats, parka, Bermuda shorts, white shirts, even hoodies — and giving them such a blinding couture treatment that they became fantastical versions of something familiar, albeit in the Roman designer’s signature delicious colour combinations. There were masterful dressmaking techniques at play, which resulted in sculptural coats entirely constructed from geometrically cut pieces of fabric knotted together to create a kind of futuristic lace, or pieces entirely made from hand-moulded fabric roses. Everything was layered upon shirts and turtlenecks, giving it a kind of elegant ease. A roll-neck that appeared to be a simple rib knit was in fact hand-stitched out of individual tubular threads to create the texture of a regular sweater. The show also marked Valentino’s new genderless approach to haute couture, with boys in long leather opera gloves and wide-leg trousers, and even glittering sequinned blousons and capelets that rivalled all the drama of the Goddess gowns that close every Valentino couture show.
Pat McGrath created glittering Midas-touched gold faces, inspired by Leigh Bowery, that matched the vertiginous metallic boots that nodded to the ones worn by aristocrats in Renaissance Venice (the higher the heel, the closer to God) — all sumptuously offset by the resplendent gilded surroundings of the Palazzo Colonna gallery in Rome. Paired with long, languid tailoring and crisp white shirts, it created a harmonious balance of opulence and — dare we say — practicality. This was your existing wardrobe reimagined through the prism of haute couture, a supernatural take on ‘normal’ clothes. Just enough to make you dream, but encourage you to try it home.
To mark the occasion, Pierpaolo also enlisted the British artist Robert de Naja (AKA Massive Attack’s 3D) to not only soundtrack the show — Massive Attack’s ‘Ritual Spirit’ — but to create a film about the making of the couture, which was filmed over a three-month period and centres on the idea of ‘teaching’ an artificial intelligence the process and making of Valentino couture, which will be revealed this Friday. “The human feeds the mechanic, the manual activates a neural and digital process, in the quest for a new humanism,” Pierpaolo said. Looking at clothes like this and all the human emotion put into them, however, it’s difficult to imagine how a machine could ever match up.