THE ACT COLLECTION Fashion as Sharp Tailored Clothes and as Personal Values
By Long Nguyen
Pierpaolo Piccioli imagines his Valentino fashion in grandeur terms by encompassing a broader boundary where fashion interacts with other cultural and societal forces.
In recent seasons, Piccioli, the creative director, and the Valentino brand have been at the forefront of many social-political issues that have taken a toll on fashion. Piccioli has worked tirelessly in having the brand embrace the issues of diversity and lead and in championing new ways a fashion brand can broaden its community. Last week, the brand posted a #StopAsianHate on its Instagram. The singer and actress Zendeya is currently fronting the brand ad campaign to galvanize her peers to the brand.
For this fall collection staged in Milano at the historical Piccolo Teatro di Milano – Teatro d’Europa, Piccioli rallies the efforts to support the performing arts closed down for nearly a year due to the pandemic restrictions. The show marks the first time the Piccolo Teatro has been open since the lockdown last March, albeit just for one day.
Although it will only be for a day for this show, it is a symbolic gesture, a first reopening act that hopefully will continue later this year. The London artist Cosima performed live at the theater center, singing from her newly released The Fun Is Here album on her record label. The models emerged into the theater with its empty red velvet chairs in the background. The orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi added a sense of majesty to these slick clothes.
In the end, the models all stood together in their sharp and layered clothes, just like how actors all came out to salute the audience when the play ends before the curtain dropped one last time.
Looking at the picture of these models standing still like their yearbook picture in this finale, the memories of Piccioli’s vibrant colors and long fluid shapes seemed a bit distant.
Piccioli’s singular and fresh approach should appeal to the younger generation looking for fashion and fashion brands that share their outlook and values.
Piccioli has distilled his fashion into its most simple expressions with this collection, eliminating embellishments and even the vibrant colors that were so prevalent in his recent haute couture and ready-to-wear collections. Here it is a fashion design that takes center stage where the focus is on more androgynous tailoring shapes that dominate. Simultaneously, the evening dresses are lean and close to the body column dress like the strappy dress with black marabou feathers or a soft and fluid black chiffon long dress.
The collection comes mostly monochromatic black and white in slender and short silhouettes with the sophisticated layering of a felt wool coat over a vest over a white spread collar shirt over a polka dots knit turtleneck and short skirt in the opening look.
The tailoring on the women’s and men’s jackets, coats, and suits clearly shows the design elements’ cross-over. There is harmony in the black double breast cape jacket when paired with a micro skirt or a shortened pants. Or the design of a simple, slightly boxy double breast jacket with a white spread collar shirt.
The men’s clothes share the same sensibility as the women’s; one looks like a black wool single breast coat effortlessly fits both genders. There is an excellent range of men’s outerwear, including furry black wool coat, leather parka, nylon blouson, and yes, the black and white zig-zag pattern shaping the house logo on a long overcoat. Like the rest of the collection, the selection is essential as there is no longer any need for extraneous pieces that no longer make sense today.
In a more literal sense of fashion design, the clothes reflect the deliberate act of cutting – here, that means cutting everything shorter and cutting away any potential excess. A white windowpane pea coat is now a cape, black gabardine wool skirts are now micro skirts, and a dotted dress with black lace front collar is now a short cocktail dress.
In a mood board from Piccioli, there are images depicting snapshots of the punk era like several skinhead photographs. Still, it is hard to reckon how punk figured into this collection saved for the studding on the white small leather handbag or a black leather small rectangular crossbody bag with gold brass metallic square studs. Perhaps punk is the mood for these super-short skirt looks, more in the attitude than in actuality.
Some of the techniques first deployed in the spring 2021 couture collection resurfaced in this collection. In the black knit sweater dress with cylindrical cut out that also appeared on the black gabardine short dress, the black turtleneck with ‘holes’ seen in both the men and women looks are actual strips of fabrics hand spiraled into the diamond shapes patterns. And as a black sweater underneath a wool men’s short coat and boxy pants. The subtleties of the clothes are a tribute to the handicraft work at the Roman atelier.
But more than just handcraft techniques, harmonize this fall show with the spring haute couture. Piccioli is ushering a new streamlined design vision for Valentino, an aesthetics that filter from couture to ready to wear to bags and sneakers. Now, the minimalism of the design – how to bring forth garments that respect the body and garments that discreetly show it off – or only as ‘the sensual and the romantic nourished by memories but not nostalgia.’
This collection is easily one of Piccioli’s best ready-to-wear collections, with spirit and substance and easy to wear. These are also clothes with their loud odes to couture gestures to establish a new identity for the Roman fashion house, an aesthetic identity to nurture in the coming seasons. The clothes are the narrative in this performance with no actual audience but with everyone as its real audience.
Culture has cared for, just like all the plays and performances in a typical year at the Piccolo Teatro.
Fashion is the same here. Piccioli brings a bit of the Valentino past to embrace the present with the construction of streamlined couture ready to wear destined for a younger generation that the house is keen to connect.