Pierpaolo Piccioli is (again) the king of haute couture. With his Valentino spring-summer 2021 collection, he proves that the most elaborate and intricately detailed ball gown of his is equally couture as a seamless, sculpture-like cape (“I don’t want to call it that. It’s not a caftan, or a poncho. It’s a shape!”) with not even one sequin or embellishment. This season, the designer floated towards haute minimalism, which was all about lean sharpness and elevated boldness. It was just so, so, so beautiful and inspiring to see. “It’s more about pieces that will give an effortlessness,” Piccioli said. “The narrative of the collection is the collection itself. No stories. Nothing figurative. I wanted to work on surfaces, not in a decorative sense, but workmanship which becomes the surface itself.” Along came garments that (also crassly) might ordinarily be classified as hoodies, sweaters, shirts, board shorts, and camisoles, acting as foils for amazing lattice-worked coats and sculptural capes. “I think elegance is not about ‘good taste’” said Piccioli. “It’s a bit daring.” And along came men, which was a big treat. At Valentino, “it’s for the very first time,” Piccioli shrugged. “But couture is for people. I don’t care about gendered (fashion). It’s an inspiration which is fluid, no-boundaries: a trench coat is for men and women.” And what a trench coat: structured so that the volume of the sleeves somehow continued seamlessly into a generous, chic storm-flap in the back of the coat. Only haute couture experts can pull off that sort of thing. It used to be that every haute couture look was conceived as a sacred kind of unit. Gone are those days. Now Piccioli is more motivated to make a white poplin shirt, which he showed with a long oyster-colored skirt that appeared narrow in the front, yet flared to a train in back in one of the show’s most arresting moments. “It’s a shirt, a fantastic shirt. Of course you can wear it like this, or any other way. And the skirt is timeless.” Piccioli is right: we’re thankfully long past the time when audiences might work themselves into a pearl-clutching froth at the sight of male models wandering an haute couture runway. Far more to the point is keeping the practice of haute couture relevant to the moment we’re living in. As many of haute couture’s old-world conventions drop away, what remains to be valued is the coalition of high craft and social insight. Piccioli spent a long time reflecting on that in the last months. “To me, the essence of couture,” he said, “is the ritual, the process, the care, the humanity. That’s what makes couture timeless, special.” Summing up: meraviglioso!
“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.