valentino's russian revolution
The night after the U.S. election, Valentino brought the heart of liberal New York to Moscow in a speakeasy event marking the opening of its new Tretyakovsky Proyezd store. i-D spoke to Pierpaolo Piccioli about global unity, politics and fashion, and...
Had Pierpaolo Piccioli been psychic, Valentino couldn't have planned it better. Twenty-four hours after Donald Trump's shock win in the American presidential election, fashion's most open-armed designer brought the streets of New York to Moscow, dedicating the Roman house's first Russian event to that most liberal of US cities. Of course, Black Tiger — the speakeasy-themed party staged in a derelict warehouse last Thursday evening — wasn't intended as a comment on Russia's Trump-loving president and media, but the irony spoke for itself. Marking the opening of Valentino's biggest and most beautiful store in Moscow (there are three) just a stone's throw from the Bolshoi, the festivities were curated by Piccioli's favorite New York theatre troupe, Sleep No More. They had guests strolling through 1920s New York with all the blind tigers — the Prohibition Era term for alcohol-selling establishments — and sweets stores, quickstepping couples and generously coiffed Russian oligarchs a westernized Eastern Bloc could dream of. "We wanted to create a moment, which wasn't created in a particular place, and to celebrate the opening of this store by allowing people to experience Valentino in a different way," Piccioli said the morning after, over coffee in the Valentino store. "Not just to celebrate the beauty of the house, but the cool and the contemporary. It's getting something that you already know from a different perspective, which is exactly what I want to do with the house. A kind of manifesto."
It's been four months since the 49-year-old designer, who took the helm at Valentino in 2009 with his then partner-in-design Maria Grazia Chiuri, was left steering the wheel on his own after his co-captain jumped ship to Dior. Apart from his first solo show in October — for which he received rave reviews — Moscow marks Piccioli's first event and interview for the house following Chiuri's exit. "I wasn't thinking of people's reactions to my first solo collection. I just did whatever I felt like doing," he says, setting a casual tone for the topic, which was already established when the two designers attended each other's shows this season. "What was really different was the approach, because when you are two, you respect each other — of course. You talk, you share ideas; everything becomes more thoughtful," he continues, occasionally pausing in contemplation. "Alone I could deliver emotion to emotion very directly — no filter — so in a way you get more the deeper sense of your job. You go deeper into the roots and you deliver directly to people. That's different. It's more emotional. I felt more naked in a way." When Chiuri left, industry whispers had it she was the craftsman and he was the researcher. As it turned out, they were both consummate designers: creatively gifted and socially aware, Chiuri in a strong feminist statement at Dior and Piccioli in a sentiment of punk at Valentino, which couldn't have been more on point in a political year of conformism.
"If you think about delivering the idea of beauty as individuality, authenticity, and diversity it's about expressing values for society, not only for fashion," he says. "And I want to do this. It's an opportunity." Those words should be the job brief for every fashion designer in the world, and while we already drained the swamp of Trump talk at dinner two nights before, Piccioli does smile at the beautiful irony of his well-timed Moscow event. (If you question the reality of Russia's Trump affection, simply ask the girl in the Moscow sweets store, who congratulated this writer's New York-based friend on his president-elect the day before with the excruciatingly ill-timed words, "we're stronger together.") "The idea of one moment in time to set the values of the house: the Roman couture house that's contemporary and cool," Piccioli muses, reflecting on the Black Tiger event. "The codes of the house in a different perspective: an industrial area, which speaks more about Moscow than anything else," he says. "I think it's important to have a global approach, but maintaining your local identity. Valentino is a really Roman house and I'm definitely very Italian in terms of identity. But I like to look to the world. It's open." It's been Piccioli's ethos since he first took over at Valentino, and one his newfound solo position has only reinforced.
He isn't one for market and client talk, but surely Valentino isn't rolling out a Russian event of this magnitude just for the fun of it. Russia is big business. The customers, who wear Piccioli's breathtakingly intricate dresses and coats embellished like they were Fabergé eggs are as politically diverse as his Valentino is globally unifying. And therein lies this designer's genius. "I'm curious about people, for sure, but not for what they wear," he says. "I'm curious about people to understand what they dream about, the way they face life. I like the culture of different people. I don't create for the Middle East, for Russia — women are women, men are men, people are people, all over the world." Nothing illustrated this philosophy better than Piccioli's Black Tiger event the night before, where a babushka of corpulent stature with a bouffant so big Elnett could die happy was sipping a glass of champagne from a sofa while her tiara-wearing debutante granddaughter danced the night away with an Aperol Spritz just few feet from her. They were both wearing Valentino — in very different ways. "If you like it, you wear it in your own way, which is fine. I don't think fashion is about absolutism," Piccioli says. "Our jobs are being witnesses to our times and talking about the beauty of our times. Beauty relates to our times — even couture. Something cool is not something that tries hard to be cool. Cool is related to the contemporary. It's balancing high and low, different languages together, diversity, street and couture," he smiles. "Something bad with something beautiful."
Texts Anders Christian Madsen