Review of Valentino

Fall 2020 Haute Couture Fashion Show Review


The Incredible Lightness of Couture


“NON VOGLIAMO ESSERE SUBITO GIÀ COSÌ SENZA SOGNI,” flashed across the screen in white capital letters just as the pink and orange floral petals fell after the colorful flowers were projected onto the sumptuous white couture dresses worn by models standing tall on a pedestal as their supergiant gowns swept to the floor below. The phrase is a verbal reminder that as human beings we simply cannot find ourselves so quickly and so immediately in a situation where we are without dreams.

But this verbal reminder was perhaps unnecessary in the performance piece by Pierpaolo Piccioli, Valentino’s creative director, working with the photo-director Nick Knight in staging a live and live-streaming ‘show’ with models wearing the fall-winter haute couture collection consisting of exactly fifteen looks, looks that will be remembered forever as the height and the ultimate expression of hope and of beauty as utter defiance in face of the current adversity and suffering.  

In fifteen looks, Piccioli offers the kind of transcendent experience completely missing from this entire experimental couture season in digital format, a show with many moments of dramatic heights where each of the XXX tall actual garments is the center of attention. Each look is a chapter in this great book that is the story of the fall couture collection as seen live from Rome.  

Here, Piccioli’s responses to adversity are not to create an allegory of a fantasy world but to harness the Valentino ateliers to handcraft magnificent gowns, out-of-this-world gowns with their volumes stretched beyond the actual boundary of clothes to entice audiences and to remind each of us that haute couture’s function is as a gatekeeper of stories and of ‘sogni’ (dreams).  

That the performance began with a black and white edited tour of Rome’s Cinecittà Studio’s grand sets of old Roman palaces, Roman statues, lions, and the half-crowned head from Fellini’s Casanova was no accident, but serves as a conduit to the process of haute couture as the mechanism unveiling the human capacity to create and to foster the capacity to dream. It is also a reminder that history and storytelling are central to haute couture – “humanism is the seed of rebirth.” 

‘Of Grace and Light’, the title of the performance, is a dialogue between the human and the digital touch and how the inner values of couture – creativity, imagination, and emotion can be delivered within the confines of the artifice of the online screen. 

It is about how these two realms can converge at certain points however egregious, however difficult to execute. The projection of colorful flowers onto the all-white gowns not only creates an illusion that maybe the clothes are in actuality hand-painted with flower decorations, but these projections create a link between the digital world’s high-tech and the gowns’ hand-made (by a team of ateliers).  

Digital images of flowers melt into the models’ white clothes; images of models wearing the clothes melt into images of falling petals where the physical and the non-physical intertwine. It’s the humanization of the digital and of the technological that on its own is a sure breakthrough in the attempts for fashion to conquer the digital world on its own terms.    

I remembered many years ago watching a hologram of Kate Moss wearing an ethereal chiffon wedding gown floating over our heads in a projection beam at Alexander McQueen’s Fall 2006  ‘Widows of Culloden’ show in Paris. Then technology and fashion seemed separate – a projection – rather than here and now at Valentino, where tech and haute couture merge and the clothes come alive on screen. 

In his initial seasons on his own, Pierpaolo Piccioli’s vocabulary at Valentino has been a back and forth debate of how much to respect the house’s history and signature codes while injecting his own thinking. Now firmly in command, he is proposing his own vocabulary for the entire house, a vocabulary that emanates from haute couture and that permeates as the ethos for the entire house, including ready to wear and accessories. Piccioli can make his clothes speak for themselves, no slogan required. 

“Focusing on fashion as the profoundly human activity of giving forms to matter through the hands, shaping creations as the body inhabits and brings to life,” Piccioli said in the press notes. Haute couture is a human relationship drawn out in hand made clothes, a poignant countenance to the current times.  

As Nick Knight’s camera approached the models mounted on a pedestal or sitting on a circular circus ring high in the air, the audience can feel the layers and layers of handiwork that build the volume of each of the dresses, each just as grand as the one before, each just as complicated in their display of craftsmanship, and each just as unique as the different hands that created the extremely elongated gowns, all to the music by FKA Twigs. 

The uneven folds of the white puffed sleeves, rectangular necklined, pleated taffeta dress that required over 3,800 hours of handiwork guided by seven atelier specialists can be seen like mountain caverns in the camera’s close up shots. The sparkling of the silver sequins underneath the short sleeve organza and tulle coat made from over 350 meters of fabric comes alive from under the model’s sequined hat. The audience can see and feel the movements of the white feathers on the tulle and organza embroidered coat worn with a second-skin jersey silver sequined bodysuit. One of the great looks is the white chiffon dress where the top section is made with white feathers forming a circular ball, encompassing the idea of freedom of movement and simplicity all in one dress.  

The clothes are as voluminous as dreams should be.

How did this performance measure up to an actual live show? At least for me, the high level of intensity and emotion that all of us felt sitting in gilded wooden chairs in three small rows around the Salon IV square room of the Hôtel Salomon de Rothchild with the small audience can never be replicated, and witnessing the show there always on the last night of the haute couture week was never anything short of a magical moment. But I have to say that of all the digital showings in the past three weeks, this one is a gem on its own.  

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