The Beginning. Valentino AW22 Couture

Amada mia, amore mio! Ah! ah!

For Valentino’s spectacular autumn/winter 2022 haute couture show, creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli returned to Rome, where Valentino Garavani founded the storied maison back in 1959. Otherworldly bodies descending from the Spanish Steps in the golden evening sun, the romantic voice of Labrinth echoing from beneath the Trinità dei Monti… well, that was a scene. “I start from the finale, always,” Pierpaolo Piccioli said during a preview in Paris days before the show. “What I have in mind is these liquid, colourful drops coming down from the Steps, the volumes light and in movement.” He titled his show The Beginning: a return to the city where Valentino Garavani founded his maison, a place that has moved with the winds of change since the dawn of time. Like Piccioli’s Valentino, Rome’s codes may remain the same but its values are in eternal evolution. That was the sentiment behind a show he envisioned as “a conversation with Valentino” across the past, the present and the future. Piccioli had been dreaming of doing a show on the 18th-century steps. “It’s very personal. The last time Valentino did a show on the Spanish Steps was in the 1990s. It was a different moment in fashion. It was about lifestyle and the perfection of beauty, the glamour, the supermodels,” he reflected. “I wanted to get the spirit of Valentino – the joie de vivre – because I think it’s the only way of making beauty resilient to the time. On the other hand, there’s a picture I want to deliver, which is different from what it was 45 years ago. It’s the picture of what we live in. The Spanish Steps are the same, the atelier is the same, and in the end, clothes are clothes. I like to keep the rituals of haute couture. But the real difference is in the casting – in the humans – that can tell stories and witness a different moment in this world. I want to empower them and give them a voice and the opportunity to tell their own stories.

Piccioli’s approach to the show manifested in a collection that didn’t just poeticise the decades-long legacy of Valentino Garavani, but his own contributions to the house. Rather than pursuing newness, he reflected on what Valentino stands for after 14 years under his own artistic directorship (and 23 years as an employee). Unless you’d spent those years under a rock, you’d immediately recognise the resplendent volumes of his dresses, suits and coats, the hypnotising hues of his gem colours, and the drama of his plumed headpieces bouncing like jellyfish in the stream of the Roman evening breeze. “I wanted to do a reflection about how much of myself is in Valentino, and how much of Valentino is in my identity,” he said. “It’s everything I’ve already done but in a different place.” Piccioli’s era at Valentino has followed a time of political divide when the progressive values he fights for – the diversity, inclusivity and self-expression represented in his casting – are contrasted by a rise of reactionary ideas that has only become terrifyingly evident with recent American Supreme Court rulings. In that sense, moments like the Spanish Steps show – these grand gestures of beauty – are a kind of activism on his part. It may be wrapped in majestically coloured taffeta, three-dimensional geometric plumage painstakingly made to evoke Roman mosaics, or voluminous hand-sequined suits, but at the core of Piccioli’s haute couture is a dream that cuts deeper than mind-blowing craftsmanship. “I believe that it’s my responsibility as a fashion designer to bear witness to the times we’re living in,” he said. “I think that beauty has the power to break through, touch people and their conscience. Taking a radical posture through a strong narration and through images of a world that’s changing has an impact, and gives visibility to values that have to be protected. I believe fashion can be political.” With the likes of Naomi Campbell and Anne Hathaway on the front row the show was testament to the global impact of the new age of haute couture that Piccioli has spearheaded in recent years. But as illustrated by the people who joined them – Valentino’s co-founder Giancarlo Giammetti, Piccioli’s family, and their dog Miranda – it’s a success achieved through a grounded approach to the industry, to the mainstream fame he has gained, and everything that comes with it. At the heart of Piccioli’s progression-driven age of Valentino are a realness, friendliness and ease that remain his greatest assets.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.


La Grande Bellezza. Valentino AW21 Couture

What a show. What a feeling. What a symphony. Celebration of great beauty. Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli set his sublime couture collection in the Gaggiandre, or ship building yard, of Venice. He was drawn to the place’s haunting beauty which he likened to a De Chirico painting with its arches and robust columns. In Renaissance times this place represented the hub of the city’s trading machine, a sophisticated production line that was said to churn out a boat a day. This being Venice and the Renaissance, of course the place – now part of the Arsenale where the city’s art and architecture Biennales are showcased – is as beautiful as it was once productive, having been built (between 1568 and 1573) by Jacopo Sansovino, one of Venice’s most revered architects of the period. Piccioli set his snaking runway under Sansovino’s soaring arches where the ships were once sheltered to be repaired, so that it appeared to float over the water. Guests were bidden to wear white. Luckily everyone did as they were told, and the effect, as the golden light of early evening streaked the water, the stone, tile, and brick, was undeniably poetic. To add to the spine-tingling moment, the collection was serenaded by the British singer Cosima, whose plangent voice gave a powerful twist to Calling You from the 1987 movie Bagdad Cafe, that opened the show. Piccioli brings the ultimate level of gasping wonder to fashion’s color wheel, setting flamingo pink, chartreuse, violet, cocoa, and mallard green ball gowns one after another, for instance. Or he might throw a raspberry double-face balmacaan over darker pink pants and an orchid pink crepe shirt, or a lilac cashmere cape over violet pants, frog green sequin t-shirt, and pea green gloves, and then ground the look with eggplant shoes with the heft of Dr. Martens. These last two ensembles, by the way, are part of the menswear offerings in the collection, in case you were wondering, and very persuasive they were too.

There were 84 looks in the show, and each one was a different proposition, from puffball micro minis, (shaded with Philip Treacy’s giant trembling ostrich frond hats that moved like jellyfish), to trapeze silhouettes, skirts that hit the mid-calf or hovered above the ankle, and slinks of satin and crepe cut to spiral round the body like affectionate serpents. From ball gown to micro mini the effect was one of commanding elegance. The fashion history sleuth will find echoes here of Madame Grès, of Cardin, and Capucci, as well as note taking from Mr. Valentino’s own magnificent oeuvre, but Piccioli takes these iconic moments of design history and makes them uniquely and persuasively his own. Also unique were the artist collaborations, curated by Gianluigi Ricuperati, who assembled a roster of 17 painters, including Jamie Nares, Luca Coser, Francis Offman, Andrea Respino, and Wu Rui. Art and fashion have often united in symbiosis – think of Warhol and Sprouse, or Schiaparelli and Dalí – but here the effect was a celebration of creativity, the hand, and of the nonpareil Valentino workrooms whose talented artisans evoked the source artworks through various cunning means. There were elaborate collages of textiles, for instance 46 in all for Look 6, Kerstin Brätsch’s The If, 2010, (as the Valentino show program notes helpfully noted, alongside the names of the craftspeople in the ateliers who have made them). Meanwhile, the five pieces by Patricia Treib, combined in the ballgown of Look 68, called for 140 meters and 88 different textiles, and took 680 hours to complete. On close inspection even the fine lines of Benni Bosetto’s pencil strokes (Untitled, 2020), that appeared to have been drawn directly onto the pale satin of Look 46, turned out to have been suggested by subtle hand-stitching (a stunning 880 hours of work, if you are counting). The ball gown and cape that closed the show, Look 84, were scrolled with motifs drawn respectively from Jamie Nares’s It’s Raining in Naples, 2003 and Blues in Red, 2004, requiring 700 hours of work, 107 meters of fabric, and custom screens for the hand-printing as it had to be done on such a large scale. The effect was appropriately magisterial. Summing up: total magnificience.

All collages by Edward Kanarecki.