At Every Moment and in Many Places, Defining and Re-Signifying Anew Beyond Heritage
By Long Nguyen
Pierpaolo Piccioli’s mission at Valentino is far beyond a classical definition of a fashion designer or now commonly known as a creative director.
Piccioli aims very high in his attempts to redefine what Valentino can mean to the generation coming of age now looking at fashion and looking at how to choose and incorporate the many fashion brands into their lives. And this mission to define with clarity Valentino today and in its future means submerging the brand in multiple projects in all areas of pop-cultural life across the globe.
A few days before Valentino’s ready-to-wear spring 2022 show returning to Paris after the pandemic lockdown that saw the brief move to Milano, the Valentino Instagram began to feature a series of mock-up projections. Against iconic Parisian Hausmann buildings, images from archival photographs of the brand haute couture clothes shot in the 1960s and 1970s lit up the faux edifices.
One mock-up has a black and white image of model Marisa Berenson in a white dress from haute couture spring-summer 1968. iA second mock-up was a color image by German photographer Chris von Wangenheim of two models in a colorful dress from the spring-summer 1971 couture collection.
The projections conveyed the Valentino heritage projected into the now. But, behind the scenes at Valentino, this is a full speed ahead drive to expand the brand visual and fashion language, now in more colloquial expressions, more accessible to grasp concepts than anything high brow culture. For the Fall 2021 show in Milano last February, Valentino took over a series of flower kiosks and pastries shops throughout the city for the Act show at Teatro Piccolo. Re-Signify in Shanghai late in December 2020 – to re-signify means to project new possible realities according to the brand’s Instagram post.
Moving the brand forward means engaging in a series of linkages in music, art, literature, pop culture, and social services across the globe. The recent Vaccinated hoodie and tee shirt program supports UNICEF and the drive for vaccinations in needed countries. Together with BoilerRoomTV were the live concert series organized with musical performances that featured Italian singer and rapper Riccardo Fabbriconi, known as Blanco, the Korean rapper Woo, and the French rapper Ichon just last week.
In the literature space, there was the limited edition card game at the Soho shop created with the WeAreNotReallyStranger founder Koreen Odiney and several editions of books about the brand like the Valentino Time Capsule Red Book collections republished from the original commission in 2000. And to launch the rock stud Alcove heels and bags, there were a series of museums and bookshops exhibitions, including at the Museum of Sex in New York and the ValentinoNarratives linking young authors, old bookshops, and the brand.
The brand undertook all these non-fashion-specific projects to widen the Valentino reach beyond the realm of fashion.
This Spring 2022 moves the Valentino brand firmly as Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Valentino. The clothes in this show, both women and men, are Piccioli’s signature work developed in the past few years, first in haute couture, then aesthetics filtered down and permeated every level.
The vestige of the heritage past is barely visible, except for several actual re-edited haute couture looks – an animal print coat, a short white dress worn by Marisa Berenson from 1968, and a long floral dress photograph by Chris von Wangenheim in 1971. Re-edition of actual past garments now is a way of preserving this heritage but not having the heritage entomb the present and the future of the brand.
The Valentino heritage is brought forth today in actual reproductions, not a DNA code that must follow at all costs. What’s brought to the future from the past is just a memory be it a color or an iconic fabric – perhaps in the red color of a washed taffeta short ruffle dress or the broderie anglaise, the needlework technique on the shirts worn with denim.
The silhouettes are relatively linear for the long or mini dresses in the Picccioli bright colors of the violet strappy dress, bright Fuschia triangular dress, leaf green, deep v-neck strapless dress, or a one-shoulder bright yellow one-shoulder dress. The women’s outerwear – especially the coats – are loose fits and wide shapes like a long white coat with embroidered sleeves or a chocolate brown cape over a brown satin blouse and hot shorts. Several of the white floral motifs coat reminded to their haute couture forbearers.
The linearity of the dresses balances the volumes of the coats. Piccioli kept the evening dresses linear, simple, and less decorated like the violet sequined body deep v-neck cape-dress combo. The designer turned taffeta, a couture fabric, into anoraks and oversized shirts.
The menswear portion of the show is solid, featuring clothes anchored in tailoring, showing off the range of loose and relaxed fits. But the men’s clothes are sensual, as their loose silhouettes do not envelop the body. See the very boxy purple wool double breast sleeveless long jacket-coat over a high waist short or the dark pink single breast cape sleeve knee-length coat paired with a white dress shirt un-tucked and a brown short.
These men’s clothes are for the dandies of 2021. It’s also a business that Valentino should develop separately from the women’s, even if there are plenty of shared aesthetics. Young guys want to see their groupies and tribes too.
One thing great about this collection is the resolve of not trekking into the streetwear territory that so many luxury brands are rushing and are throwing their collections to get the interests of the kids. Going the streetwear route isn’t necessarily the answer for Valentino. But, the show could use a bit of editing and cut out at least 30 looks, as too many looks often dilute the actual message.
There is a lightness in the clothes that comes from a firmer belief in the garments’ design and execution – the collection felt easy and confident with the new slouchier silhouettes, many of the shapes coming from the outstanding haute couture Fall 2021 show in Venice in July. The Valentino vocabulary now is Piccioli’s vocabulary.
So much has been said about the difficulty of heritage fashion houses finding a new voice and a new audience. The prime reasons are the firm holding on to whatever the heritage is and the reluctant creative mind to move on from familiar old terrain. But here and now, Piccioli has successfully transited the Valentino brand to a new destination with his fashion design and sensibility.
Carreau du Temple’s former marketplace, with tables set inside and out on the street, is a metaphor for the Valentino brand. Valentino is now an open creative company working with diverse groups of people inside and outside of fashion to foster a future that looks quite different from the past. Around the show space, Valentino collaborated with locale stores in concept pop-ups for this week. Thus the clothes look different too.
The powerful society women and the upper echelon hierarchy that once populated Valentino Garavani’s haute couture collections in its height of supremacy in the decades of the 1960s to the 1990s now replaced by groups of people with a different kind of influence and societal power, be it the 18 years old Italian rapper Blanco or the Korean singer Woo or the actress Zendaya or the writer Koreen Odiney.
This Spring 2022 shows above all cement this total transition to the new world and the new era. The street staging may have been an apogee for the new Valentino that has been working for several seasons.