pierpaolo piccioli presented 71 inclusive statements of absolute beauty
The Valentino couture show was a celebration of women of all ethnicities and ages, of beauty and of the emotion imbued in dressmaking.
Photography Mitchell Sams
71 statements of absolute individual brilliance. That’s the only way to describe Valentino’s couture show last night. To say that there was one theme, storyline or takeaway -- or indeed, one “Valentino woman” as fashion editors love to summarise -- would defeat the creative coup that Pierpaolo Piccioli manages to stage every season. His shows are about inclusivity, diversity and individuality. They are celebrations of women of all ethnicities and ages, of beauty and of the craftsmanship and emotion imbued in dressmaking. In the words of the man himself: “Trying to explain it would be betraying the deepest meaning of the journey.” So, the message was that there is no single message at all. “Individuality is an act of creation and self-creation, but also of interpretation,” he added. “[There are] as many meanings as all the spectators watching [this show].”
With clothes like these, no explanation is needed. One of the defining factors of his aesthetic, especially when it comes to couture, is his unapologetic extravagance and poetic use of colour. Earlier this week, his former creative partner Maria Grazia Chiuri explained that couture clients can pick the colour themselves, hence why she showed an all-black collection. However, the way that colour is served to us is what inspires and awakens the senses. Pierpaolo gives it to us so deliciously, bringing to life a prismatic rainbow in the most unexpected combinations (tangerine and lilac, mauve and peppermint, teal and red, dove grey and shocking pink) — and in the most opulent fabrics. It’s what makes him a natural successor to the late Yves Saint Laurent, and there were even some obvious nods to that early pioneer of diversity and extravagance on a Delphic white gown laden with sequinned Matisse doves and gold leaves. Another delightful homage was to the brilliant Madame Grès’s work in the early 70s with a sky blue goddess gown with swirls of micro-pleating.
Much like YSL, Pierpaolo is inspired by the women around him and the beauty of places around the world. There were hints of Akha headdresses, Bhutanese prints and emblems borrowed from the communities of the Himalayas, with pom-poms and gold discs and fringes. Pierpaolo was reluctant to pinpoint a specific place on a map, and the result was something obscure -- it could have well been inspired by Berber crowns or Guatemalan dress. The truly diverse casting, which included older women like the legendary Lauren Hutton and British model Cecilia Chancellor, was a statement of just how globally inclusive Valentino is right now.
Last summer, the pink ostrich-feather dress Kaia Gerber wore in the couture show arguably ignited a frenzy for feathers, resulting in every couture house (and plenty of ready-to-wear designers) seemingly stitching together flocks of the stuff. Pierpaolo, however, has moved on. In the place of plumes, he opted for woolly komondor tassels and fringing, which have a homespun, shaggy quality. Well, not so shaggy in the hands of Valentino’s petite mains. Here it was dyed in saturated hues and used as trims, headpieces and there was even a splendid lemon-hued gown entirely crafted from it, with sequins transforming the bodice into mini flowers -- worn by Anok Yai to open the show.
The show was scored by a beautiful rendition of Aretha Franklin's You Make Me Feel like a Natural Woman and it couldn’t be more fitting as Pierpaolo took his bow with the entire team of people, mainly women, who bring his ideas to life with their hands. It illustrated the humanity, time and emotion that got into these clothes and, as with anything, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.