There was something truly powerful about the feeling conveyed by Pierpaolo Piccioli‘s Valentino spring-summer 2021 collection. It was so heartfelt, sincerere, honest. The line-up was presented for the first time in Milan, not in Paris, which in a way also changed the aura. In a declaration of support for the Italian fashion system and making the most out of the difficult circumstances the pandemic has forced upon us, Piccioli opted for an act of bravery – and bravura. He decided to decamp from the ornate Parisian fabulousness of the Salomon de Rothschild salons for the powerful industrial rawness of Fonderie Macchi, a metallurgical foundry active in Milan from 1936. “In this moment, sticking to an old mindset for me just wasn’t an option,” he said at the post-show press conference. Choosing a venue at odds with Valentino’s typical optics, so deep-rooted in couture, signaled the bold stance Piccioli was taking in the re-definition of the house’s stylistic codes – a process he called re-signification. “I focused on working more on Valentino’s identity than on its aesthetics,” he reflected. As always with Piccioli, his approach was as instinctual as it was sophisticated; he’ll go down as one of fashion’s romantic visionaries, able to orchestrate moments of true creative enjoyment, both emotional and visually elevated. Romanticism was actually much on his mind while working on the collection. He called it radical. But what does it mean being a radical romantic today? “For me, it rhymes with individuality, with the freedom to express our very own identity and diversity,” he answered. Being romantic means also not following the rules, embracing idealism, being rebellious- fighting for a better world. Believing that things can change: “Fashion for me is a way to talk about the values that matter today,” he said. “The true acceptance of diversity. Tolerance and kindness. This is the world I want to tell through my work as a designer.” If aesthetics can actually suggest something about one’s life, then the collection’s street casting was a celebration of the many diverse-looking people Piccioli wants to include in his narration. Each look was individual, thoroughly chosen according to the personality of the character, young men and women coming from different backgrounds and walks of life. Yet from a fashion standpoint, the collection looked more toned down than usual: streamlined and with fewer of the decorative flourishes and certain hyperbolic gestures of couture. Lace, macramé, crochet, and embroideries were among the textural couture accents reworked here with a crafty, more palpable ‘human’ touch. Both the women’s and men’s lines shared shapes, volumes, and fabrics; the same wardrobe staples were often proposed in identical versions for both genders. Progressing from linear, almost minimal looks, the collection flowed into the ethereal evening options that have become synonymous with Valentino style; here the sophisticated shapes of caftans and cape dresses were designed with fluid, efficient precision. Highlighting a somehow reductionist approach, the only print was a vibrantly-hued floral revival of an archival dress: a glamorous yellow number famously worn by Anjelica Huston and lensed by Giampaolo Barbieri in 1972. Arrangements of wildflowers and plants filled the vast industrial set in a powerful installation by Japanese plant artist Satoshi Kawamoto; Piccioli envisioned it as a disruptive element of beauty inspired by guerrilla gardening’s practice of growing delicate plants in gray concrete spaces – another romantic act of urban resistance. The flowers had a story of their own: originated in eight different countries, they were grown in a nursery in Milan, where they’ll be returned after the show. Piccioli is the modern-day master when it comes to turning fashion shows into emotionally charged moments of visual seduction. Music always serves his purpose well. This time, he entrusted the singer, songwriter, and producer Labrinth to perform stirring renditions of some of his hits. It all worked together in a delightful way.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.