Re-Signification. Valentino Pre-Fall 2021

Pierpaolo Piccioli is busy keeping Valentino’s re-signification going, the line of thought about identity, humanity, and radicalism around which he’s been tailoring his practice since last year. “Today, more than ever, aesthetics are determined by identity,” the designer told Vogue while discussing his pre-fall 2021 collection. “To make Valentino’s codes and values pertinent for today, I want to keep a firm hold on its identity while shifting its signifiers, giving them a new attribution.” What does that mean, exactly? “It means giving a more human dimension to Valentino’s lexicon, less obviously glamorous,” Piccioli said. “Not because I condemn red carpet glamour, but because today, there’s the need of a new warmth, of more humanity. So you have to open up those codes, giving them new life and the freedom to speak through more personal, individual interpretations.” And what is more individual, personal, and human than a portrait? For pre-fall Piccioli lensed the look book himself, with a cast of Italian beauties not all of whom are models, but rather friends and young women “with something to say,” he explained. The collection was intended as a series of individual pieces underlining the unique, non-clichéd humanity of each woman and her non-stereotyped representation of femininity. “The way I approached the shoot was a metaphor of what I’m doing at Valentino,” explained Piccioli. “Models for me are individuals, ‘persone’. This is a moment in time where humanity is paramount. The whole cultural discourse about inclusivity, accepting and enhancing diversities, and the freedom of expressing oneself – it’s just about putting humanity front and center as a non-negotiable social, political, and personal value.” Shot in an empty yet decadent Roman palazzo, with chiaroscuro light giving each image a painterly, metaphysical aura, the collection paid a telling homage to Valentino’s culture of couture, even if it consisted mostly of daywear. Dégradé embroideries in macro sequins, wool knots, and beads; handmade taffeta and lace intarsia; bouillonné rosettes and thread-made appliqués; embellishments made through a complex carving techniques – these and other couture flourishes were lavished on clean-cut coats and capes in double cashmere, everyday pieces of luxurious ease. Red roses, an homage to the famous Valentino flamingo dress, were stitched on a sweatshirt in vermilion cady, while a simple shirt in crisp pale blue poplin was inlaid with individually cut florals selected from different types of see-through lace. Summing up, Valentino’s ready-to-wear hasn’t been in such a good place as now for years.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Aria. Gucci AW21

Gucci turns 100 this year, and Alessandro Michele’s new collection is a very bold and sexy celebration of that milestone. Not unexpectedly it reexamines the house’s history. Michele picked up on Gucci’s equestrian codes, giving them a fetishistic spin – one model cracked their whip as they made their way down the runway. He also reprised one of Tom Ford’s greatest hits, the red velvet tuxedo from autumn-winter 1996, with tweaks including new, more pronounced shoulders, a leather harness, and versions for both men and women. More surprising were the pieces that Michele “quoted” from Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga, another brand in the Kering stable. As the show began and social media started pinging with chatter about the collaboration, a press representative clarified that this was not in fact one of fashion’s familiar hookups but rather the first output from Michele’s so-called hacking lab. With Gvasalia’s permission, Michele used some of the Balenciaga designer’s iconic shapes and symbols, including the padded hip jacket from 2016 and spring 2017’s spandex peplum top and leggings. All these things mixed and mingled with his own symbols (glitter for day, copious amounts of marabou, and anatomical heart minaudières encrusted with rhinestones) alongside a vital new emphasis on classic tailoring. In that hacking, Michele has something in common with the sample-loving musicians on his soundtrack (from Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” to Die Antwoord and Dita Von Teese’s “Gucci Coochie). But it’s a rarer occurrence in fashion, a point made clear by a written statement from François-Henri Pinault, Kering’s chairman and CEO: “I have seen how [Alessandro and Demna’s] innovative, inclusive, and iconoclastic visions are aligned with the expectations and desires of people today,” he said. “Those visions are reflected not only in their creative offerings but also in their ability to raise questions about our times and its conventions.” The industry will be watching how, with whom, and where this concept goes next. Gucci is as pop as fashion brands can be. Michele gets that on a fundamental level, and he understandably relishes that he’s a culture maker as much as a designer of clothes and accessories. “Young people look at the brand as a platform, a place. They visualize Gucci a million different ways, a million different times,” he told Vogue. Hence the music video he made with his friend, the filmmaker Floria Sigismondi. After walking the gauntlet of old-fashioned cameras that lined the runway, like superstars working a red carpet, the models paused in a darkened anteroom before pouring out into an imaginary forest where they cavorted with white horses, peacocks, and cockatoos. The film closes with one of those crystalized heart minaudières lifting into the air. It’s a post-pandemic dreamscape. And finally, a great example of a fashion (show) film.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Walking Amulets. Stella Jean AW21

Stella Jean is the pioneer of ethical fashion, long before it became the new standard in the fashion industry. Moreover, Jean doesn’t shy away from controversy or important causes. She has been a fierce spokesperson bringing awareness of racial inequalities in the Italian fashion system to the fore, pushing the industry to answer tough questions and to bring about effective change. In her practice as a fashion designer, her commitment to celebrating multiculturalism and the creative contribution of minorities and marginalized communities in her collections goes back a long way. Her label was actually born out of her desire to pay homage to her Haitian-Italian roots. For autumn-winter 2021, she partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Through its Women’s Committee, she teamed up with the Mountain Partnership Products initiative (MPP), which provides technical and financial support to small communities of producers and artisans in remote rural and mountain areas around the world. Jean was introduced to the work of Kyrgyz women from Barskoon, a settlement at 1,750 meters elevation in the northeast of Kyrgyzstan. The area is known for inlaid felt carpets and wall hangings traditionally handcrafted by women, using techniques passed down from generations. “When I saw all that beauty, the richness of the colors, the symbology, the history behind this culture, I was blown away,” Jean told Vogue on a Zoom call from her home in Rome. “These women are custodians of a naturally circular economy, totally equitable, and with the lowest environmental impact.” Jean connected remotely with the Topchu artisanal collective there with MPP’s support. Working with a local designer based in Bishkek, she came up with a capsule collection of five pieces featuring Kyrgyz embroidery in felt work. Jean chose simple shapes that can be easily replicated; artisans in Italy cut the patterns and sent them to Kyrgyzstan, where they were embroidered by the Topchu women. Once embroidered, the pieces were sent back to Italy to be assembled. “From next season, the collective can work on the patterns as they wish, creating new items that can be sold and bear profit,” she explained. “The patterns are not mine; I don’t own them. And the beautiful felted decorations have only been loaned to us – they’re theirs. The Kyrgyz women can source textiles locally, producing independently from outside partnerships. We’re not their saviors. We just have to accompany them, and then let them go find their own path. I think this a healthy, participatory way to look at globalization.” Jean integrated the Topchu collaboration into her collection beautifully, while also continuing to support a network of women artisans in the Umbria region, who made specially commissioned pieces, like a fabulous fringed wool poncho handcrafted with imaginative 3D ornamentations. For their part, the Kyrgyz artisans worked on simple wardrobe staples, energizing them with their vibrant decorations in saturated colors. The capsule comprises five looks: A sweeping hooded cape and a slim city coat in Prince of Wales checks were both embroidered with colorful motifs of birds and flowers in a mountainous landscape, and an oversized striped cotton shirt was decorated with long-legged herons. The pièces de résistance were two gorgeous skirts – one fitted, the other cut in a trapeze shape- both embroidered all over with the Shyrdak motifs traditionally handcrafted on felt carpets. “Their symbology is ancient,” said Jean. “It brings prosperity and good luck. Those skirts, they’re almost like walking amulets.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Retro-Futuristic. Versace AW21

Versace is launching a new monogram this season. Named La Greca, it’s a take on the brand’s heritage Greek Key pattern turned trompe l’oeil in the genre of Goyard’s Chevrons or Moynat’s infinite Ms. In the film Versace released, in the middle of digital Paris Fashion Week, La Greca had been blown up into a massive wooden structure that framed a runway-style show. Here, models walked through monograms wearing monogram clothes, carrying monogram bags, and accessorizing with monogram jewelry. Monogram, everything! But somehow, it didn’t suffocate the actual clothes. Donatella Versace came up with a convincing proposal for a post-lockdown wardrobe: easy, smart, and real. Sci-fi fabric treatments and styling stuff like harnesses fused with 1970s silhouettes in a slightly retro-futuristic expression were backed up by sculptural streetwear shapes and little bionic dresses (Bella Hadid, Rianne Van Rompaey and Mica Arganaraz looked gorgeous wearing them). Donatella thrives creatively lately, delivering collections that are super-Versace, but as well true to herself.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Realistic. Valentino AW21

Approximately a year ago, COVID-19 hit Europe. Pierpaolo Piccioli was presenting his Valentino collection during Paris Fashion Week (who would have ever believed back then that fashion weeks will switch to digital?!) and the solemn, melancholic elegance he sent down the runway captured the first feelings of crisis. For autumn-winter 2021, you would have expected some sort of bold, joyful vision of future re-emergence most designers are desperately talking about this season. But surprisingly – especially having in mind his recent, extraordinary couture collection! – Piccioli decided to stay a realist, staying in the black-and-white colour palette. The line-up was livestreamed from Piccolo Teatro in Milan, as a gesture of love and support towards cultural institutions that are having a very tough time with all the lockdowns and limitations. The new season offering wasn’t exactly theatrical, but the dramatic lighting elevated the ready-to-wear silhouettes. Piccioli thought of a modern-day punk attitude with a romantic twist. From the sheer lace evening gowns to over-sized shirts worn as dresses, the collection looks towards the aspect of comfort, but not in a lazy way. Knitted capelets styled with heavy leather boots; ruffled blouses worn with simple mini-skirts (sexy is returning to fashion, as Tom Ford proclaimed); chunky cardigans contrasted with light pumps. Maybe this isn’t anything ground-breaking, but it’s a properly edited collection of clothes women will always want to wear. As for men, Piccioli leaves tailoring behind and decides for equally refined, yet easier wardrobe staples: an over-sized sweater, loosely-cut pants, a chic coat with a cape-like shape. The “net” motif comes in unisex turtlenecks and fantastic eveningwear. While the fashion industry is asking itself the million dollar question of ‘what will sell in the (close) future’, Valentino answers it with the right balance of stay-at-home, Zoom-ready classics and a sense of much-needed ‘dress-up’ for the better times.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.